The owner of a machinery hire business in Auckland is seething after an expensive excavator was stolen by a supposed client for the second time in three years - and he says police have once again put their case on the back-burner.
Little Digger Hire rents out its fleet of 15 excavators to clients and DIY enthusiasts in the Auckland area. But for a second time, the company has been targeted by alleged criminals posing as genuine customers.
Over the weekend, one of the company's excavators - with a price-tag of roughly $50,000 - was stolen by a supposed client from Old Wairoa Rd in the south Auckland suburb of Papakura.
"I met the person face-to-face and parked [the digger] behind their fence," Little Digger Hire director Lenny Blake told Newshub.
But during the early hours of Saturday morning, the GPS tracking system installed in the digger was removed.
"These guys were professionals," Blake told Newshub. "They turned up at 2am, they got the GPS out of it - they detected the GPS and they got it out of there. We're talking $50,000 worth of gear gone overnight."
After reporting the alleged theft to the police, but having little confidence in the speed of their investigation, staff took it upon themselves to try and get the machinery back.
"We got in touch with them via a different number. We basically made them an offer - 'we heard you've got a digger for sale, would you be interested in this [dollar value]'. They came back and said 'yup, keen as'."
Posing as a potential buyer, Blake said they attempted to arrange a meeting with the alleged thief - but plans stalled when officers refused to assist with the handover.
"We had an opportunity to meet them, to do an exchange - which is very dangerous," Blake said. "The last question was, 'where's the meetup going to be?'
"We presented that offer to the police and asked if they wanted to assist us with this handoff. And they said no, the investigators will look into it when they get a chance - proceed with caution and if you're in immediate danger, call 111. That's all we got told."
Blake told Newshub he feels frustrated with authorities, arguing that in cases such as these, investigators have a better chance of tracking down the stolen goods if they begin the probe as soon as possible after the initial report.
"These sorts of cases, when they're hot like this, this is when you need to jump on them," Blake said. "If we tracked the phone right now, we'd find him."
'The case got assigned to a cop who was away for six weeks' annual leave'
Blake's frustration with the police stems back to their response to an initial theft roughly three years ago. After a digger was stolen by a customer, Blake said police appeared uninterested in prioritising their case.
"What happened there was the same thing - the customer basically stole it," he told Newshub.
"So I got in touch with them directly and said, 'I'll give you $2500' - which is my excess - 'will you give it back?' And they said, 'yeah sure, here's my bank account number'."
Blake then provided the information to the police, including the phone number and the account number, in the hopes it would assist with their investigation. But after visiting Manukau Police Station, he found the alleged theft had not yet been assigned to an officer.
"This was all within 24 hours, so [it was] pretty fresh - and then nothing," Blake said. "We went to the station, who said they'll update the case, but it's not assigned to an investigator yet. It's still sitting on the assignment pile. This is while the guy still had [the digger], he sent photos of it - it was still in the area.
"And then I contacted the media, and said the police are too busy to look into [my case]. And then [police's] reply back to the media was 'no, police are looking into this'. So that was the end of it."
He said the company received their first phone call from the police almost two weeks after reporting the alleged theft.
"About 11 days after, we got a first phone call from the cops, saying 'we're on the case'."
On another occasion, staff caught a digger in the process of being stolen, Blake said.
"We turned up to the property and the license plate off the trailer was gone, all of our stickers were taken off, the GPS had been ripped out. We caught it just before it got stolen, and we had an anonymous call from someone who'd got our number saying, 'just a heads up, I heard your digger's for sale'."
And again, the case appeared to be of little interest to law enforcement.
"That case got assigned to a cop who was away for six weeks' annual leave."
Now, following the latest hit last weekend, Blake is convinced history will repeat itself.
"The owner of this machine is one of my franchisees... so my response to him was basically 'relax, nothing's going to happen'," he said.
"'The digger's gone. Move on, get your insurance lined up, look for another machine'."
Newshub went to the police for a response to Blake's allegations. A police spokesperson confirmed they received a report of the alleged theft on Saturday, May 8. He said the matter was assigned to an officer and enquiries have been undertaken.
That Saturday evening, the Eagle helicopter and crew also conducted an aerial search of an address of interest, the spokesperson said.
"However, the stolen machinery was not located."
When Newshub asked why the case is not being immediately investigated - particularly as the company already appears to have made contact with the suspect - the spokesperson said the suspect's personal information is "yet to be confirmed".
He added that police would need to obtain a warrant before they could track a suspect's cell phone.
"Enquiries must be carried out in order to establish the true identity of the individual allegedly involved," the spokesperson said.
"This is an active investigation and our enquiries are ongoing. Police have been regularly liaising with the complainant about this case."
The spokesperson also said police are unaware of any broader operation regarding machinery theft in the area.
Newshub also asked police what its response is to victims of theft taking it upon themselves to try and reclaim stolen goods, particularly if it could present a dangerous situation. Police were also asked to address Blake's claim that officers refused to assist with the "exchange" they had set-up with the suspected culprit.
The spokesperson did not respond to these questions.