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Boat thefts on Lake Lanier aren’t that rare

DNR says craft recovered about half the time, as in Aug. 9 case

POSTED: August 17, 2013 11:17 p.m.

Whether they were making a getaway or simply joyriding, the Lake Lanier boating outing of three alleged boat thieves was cut short Aug. 9.

Rangers with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources recognized the flashy performance racing boat that had been reported stolen by the owner mere hours earlier and arrested them.

Owner Leslie Buice said that DNR described her as “lucky” to have her stolen boat recovered. But is such a crime that seemingly lacks an endgame really all that successful?

About 50 percent of the time, yes, said Sgt. Chad Welch of the DNR.

“Maybe half of them we recover. And the length of time on that varies. It might be the same week, it might a year,” he said.

There were 13 boats reported stolen in July, he said, though that figure could be exaggerated by false alarms.

“Some of those could have been a boat on the lake that floated off from somebody’s dock, that wasn’t really stolen, so that number isn’t necessarily extremely accurate,” he said.

He estimated closer to 10 or 11 boats were thefts, on par with the summer average.

“That’s usually about the average — anywhere from 10 to 15 a month are entered as being stolen, probably on average two, three, four of those are just misplaced, not stolen,” he said.

There were four boats reported stolen from Hall County.

People get away with it, because unlike the Aug. 9 boat theft, thieves get the boat out of the water and out of sight.

“Most folks that steal boats, they put them on a trailer and take them several counties away, if not states. It’s just too easy to get caught and steal a boat and ride around on that same lake,” he said.

Welch noted that the DNR isn’t made aware of every boat theft.

“We investigate the ones that we’re made aware of, but a lot of times the first report will go to the local law enforcement agency, usually sheriff’s deputy come out an does a report, and the boat is entered in the GCIC as being stolen,” he said.

The Georgia Crime Information System Welch referred to is operated by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which keeps track of “all stolen anything,” Welch said — cars, trailers, boat, licenses, tags.

“Our rangers in the field, each one of them has a computer in their truck, and they use the computer on the boats as well, running boat numbers, whenever we do a boating stop,” he said.

Welch gave some advice to boat owners to keep their vessels safe through the end of summer, when thefts are more likely, he said.

“With the number of boats that are on boat docks, not leaving the key in would help, for one,” he said. “Also, having the boat hull identification number and registration number so when the DNR does find out it was stolen, they can provide that info to the GCIC. That makes identifying it a lot easier. If they can’t provide a registration number or hull number, really all they’re saying is, ‘It was a white boat.’”

That made the difference Aug. 9 for Buice. After initially reporting the theft to sheriff’s deputies, she sent a picture and the boat’s registration and tag number to a DNR officer.

The GCIC is also a crucial crime-fighting tool for longer term recoveries, Welch said.

“A lot of times that’s how we find out they’re stolen, they’ll try to register and it will be flagged as stolen and we go out and recover it,” he said.


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