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ACE – a new ally in fight against plant theft

Opal ACE

Specialist police unit set up to target construction plant and agricultural machinery theft

THE theft of construction plant and agricultural machinery can have a significant impact on the businesses targeted from both the loss and replacement of the equipment taken to the cost of temporarily reduced activity and downtime.

The launch of the Construction Equipment Association-owned CESAR scheme in 2007 has had a major impact on criminality across both sectors, driving down theft significantly for machinery brands that have adopted the scheme. Now, with the launch of a new police unit, CESAR will have an ally in its fight against this type of crime.


The newly established dedicated Agricultural and Construction Equipment (ACE) specialist police unit will be managed and operated within Opal – the national intelligence unit focused on serious organized acquisitive crime (SOAC) across the UK.

Opal was established in April 2019 under the governance of detective chief constable Amanda Blakeman, the national police lead for acquisitive crime. The unit has 10 intelligence staff, including intelligence analysts and researchers, alongside police officers, under the day-to-day lead of detective superintendent Neil Austin (centre of photo).

The unit will focus on the offences committed by organized crime groups which are part of a series and involve cross-border offending. By developing proactive working relationships with law enforcement, partner and business agencies, the ACE unit will work to reduce the theft of stolen plant and agricultural equipment and maximize the recovery of stolen equipment, both nationally and internationally.

The ‘foundation’ launch of ACE took place in April 2021, when the new unit was introduced to police forces nationwide, key partners and collaborating trade associations. The key message was that cross-industry co-operation is crucial for the success of the new unit, that the ACE team is here to support the wider problem-solving approach through partnership – ‘prevention is better than the cure’.

Officers from ACE will work to develop, collate and co-ordinate intelligence from a variety of sources to identify and disrupt organized criminality and target those involved in these thefts, and identify any current and emerging crime trends and threats. The reason ACE was established on the back of Opal is because the unit already has a foothold nationally and intelligence can be shared between the forces.

The ACE national intelligence hub team will work closely with the industry, developing positive working relationships to support and promote schemes such as CESAR to prevent theft and maximize the recovery of stolen equipment.

Commenting on the new ACE unit, detective inspector Ernie Locke (right of photo), Opal National Intelligence Unit, SOAC, said: ‘ACE sits under the Opal umbrella and benefits from a dedicated intelligence team which includes analyst Luke Rawlings, who is a massive asset, with support from superintendent Andy Huddleston, PSCO Pete Johnson, who has a vast knowledge of rural crime, and the latest recruit who will be joining the team soon, intelligence officer Scott Jeffreys.

‘By working smarter and in partnership with law-enforcement agencies, government agencies, business and industry, and academia, it will deliver a whole-system approach in tackling agriculture and construction equipment theft. It is anticipated that ACE team will continue to grow as their contribution is recognized in this area of criminality.

‘Our role has many facets including problem-solving skills, delivering the four-Ps strategy of prepare, prevent, protect and pursue, and identifying emerging threats and intelligence on a regional, national and international level. By working collaboratively, sharing best practice and the timely sharing of information, the ACE unit will help reduce agricultural and construction equipment theft.’

The unit is funded jointly with donations from the Construction Equipment Association (CEA), the Agricultural Engineers Association (AEA) and a group of insurance companies, including Allianz, Aviva, Axa, HSB Engineering Insurance, NFU Mutual and QBE, with a specific interest in the construction plant and agricultural sectors.

DCC Amanda Blakeman, NPCC lead for SOAC, said: ‘This is a really positive move to improve the response of UK policing in tackling the organized theft of plant and agricultural equipment. The investment will help develop a detailed intelligence picture which will support forces in reducing criminality in this area. We are really grateful for the strong support of partners such as the CEA, the AEA and the insurance industry, and welcome their commitment to developing a strong working relationship moving forward.’

Rob Oliver, chief executive of the CEA, said: ‘Stakeholders throughout the industry have been keenly awaiting this initiative to come to fruition, so it’s great that it is now in operation with the partnership with Opal. We will be engaging with companies and organizations, such as CITS (Combined Industry Theft Solutions), to support the work of ACE in what is an evolving criminal threat.’

The first ‘in-person’ meeting of the ACE team, manufacturers, operators, hirers, and insurers will take place on 22 July 2021. The aim of the meeting will be to formally introduce the new ACE unit and discuss issues surrounding machinery theft. Opal ACE can be contacted at: [email protected]


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