The GPS Observer

November 2006

Dr. Reilly:

Thank you for the clear explanation of the difference between the NAD 83 and WGS84. I was having a hard time hearing these two datums used interchangeably. I’m glad your discussion came along.

Lloyd Blackburn

ASPRS Intermountain Regional Director



Combating Survey Equipment Theft

November 2006

We in the Chicago area have joined the ranks of surveyors being assaulted/robbed in conjunction with equipment thefts. One surveyor was run down by thieves while trying to stop a theft, leaving him in critical condition. The next day, a church service was robbed at gunpoint; no one was hurt. In the days following, a group of ministers appeared on television, stating that they realized this incident would not get any more attention if they remained silent and they needed to look out for each other. In the response from the surveying, engineering and construction communities to the surveyor being run down and critically injured, the silence was deafening.

Equipment thefts are a major problem, but the escalation to assaults and armed robberies has taken this issue to another ominous level. We as a group cannot tolerate this in any way, shape or form. There shouldn’t be an equipment theft problem. The main question should be, “Who is buying this equipment?” The legitimate market for surveying instruments is very limited. Surveying instruments wouldn’t be stolen if there was no market for them. Surveying instruments as well as any sophisticated scientific devices require a certain amount of care and feeding. This can only be done by trained technicians. Reputable dealers and manufacturers maintain “hot” lists of stolen equipment, which are consulted whenever an instrument is brought in for any reason.

Possession of stolen property is a serious crime, punishable by jail time and/or stiff fines. State professional regulatory agencies and their associated boards take a very dim view of criminal activity by licensed professionals. If a licensed professional is found in possession of stolen property, law enforcement agencies should report this to the state professional regulatory agencies. If a professional is convicted, [his or her] license should be revoked.

Some say this equipment is ending up overseas. With the level of thefts in this country, are we supplying the entire third and fourth worlds with surveying equipment? ACSM, NSPS and FIG need to address this issue. Flea markets, swap meets, pawn shops and E-Bay are not good source[s] for purchasing surveying instruments. Our professional associations need to point out to these organizations that [these are places] where stolen equipment is sold. It would be an easy arrest for law enforcement to monitor these places if the “hot” lists could be made readily available.

We need to take swift action whenever a surveyor is assaulted; spokesmen should be appointed to get up in front of the media to point out the senselessness and the difficulty in trying to sell stolen equipment. We need to pass the word immediately as to descriptions of the offenders and their vehicles. Most importantly, any time someone attempts to sell equipment from dubious sources, we must report it to the nearest police agency. If employees are aware their employer is buying/using stolen equipment, they should report it. If they don’t, they could be arrested for possession of stolen property.

In today’s world of low fees, high expectations and unreasonable deadlines, equipment manufacturers are trying to help us with improved, albeit, expensive equipment. I certainly hope that if a minority of professionals has found a way around the high cost of equipment by buying stolen equipment, all of us would agree that we do not need them or want them as a part of our profession.

Michael A. Vanderwalker, PLS


I applaud POB for tackling this issue. It is an issue for businesses of any sort these days, but especially a surveying company with expensive equipment spread out over a large geographical area.

However, two important facts regarding this issue were not mentioned by Mr. Maxwell. First and foremost in my mind is the fact that out there somewhere surveyors are purchasing equipment from disreputable sources. If there were no market for these stolen instruments, no one would steal them. We as a profession need to ensure that when we purchase equipment from an unknown source, we do everything in our power to ensure the equipment has not been stolen from one of our brothers. At the very least, we should check with the manufacturer to ensure the equipment has not been reported stolen. If we find that it has, we should promptly report all pertinent information to law enforcement. In addition, we should use some common sense when purchasing equipment. For example, we should question, if only in our own minds, how/why the person has the equipment for sale. I personally would not purchase equipment from anyone other than a dealer who I did not know was in the profession.

The second important thing we can do is to push for harsher penalties for individuals who are caught stealing or possessing stolen equipment, be it a GPS receiver or a bulldozer. If we can both increase the risk associated with this type of criminal behavior and reduce the reward, we should be able to dramatically reduce the severity of the problem.

This is not to say that Mr. Maxwell did not contribute some excellent thoughts on the problem. We definitely need to influence (read: vote with our dollars) manufacturers to include the available technology to prevent thefts and assist in catching those responsible when they do occur.

Shaun Allen, EIT



The Business Side

December 2006

Thanks so much for another insightful article on, what should be, a basic premise of land surveying. When I have gotten wrapped up in issues of precision of found monuments, I listen to the echo of a mentor’s words: “Remember, a measurement is the opinion of a surveyor and made to the best of his ability at the time it was made.” It keeps me grounded in a world of decimal places.

David L. Milazzo, LS