How do you stop a Christmas tree thief?

Update December 2013: Sadly, Troop 374 didn’t have a 2013 Christmas Tree Lot. A lack of staff, the ongoing theft of trees and poor sales the past two years forced them to close.

The Grinch is alive and well and living in St. Louis. Or at least a reasonable facsimile.

We could see her — that’s right, her — in video surveillance footage from local TV station KTVI-Fox2. In 2009, this woman stole one Christmas tree from Boy Scout Troop 374. Last year, she stole another. And this year, she’s already stolen two!

Troop 374 has made selling Christmas trees a holiday tradition. For more than 50 years, it has used the proceeds to fund its great Scouting program. “This tree lot pays for everything we do year-round,” Scoutmaster Nick Kobel told FOX2. ”It pays for the tents, all the camping gear. Every tree counts; every little bit counts.”

Now this Grinch is spoiling Troop 374’s Christmas custom — again. So let me editorialize for a moment. Dr. Seuss wrote that his green villain’s “head wasn’t screwed on quite right” and its “heart was two sizes too small.” Sound like the scoundrel seen here?

Theft is always unacceptable, but this takes “wrong” to a new level. I mean, she stole Christmas trees. From a Boy Scout troop. On church property. During the holidays. One question for you, Ms. Grinch: Why?

But I have to step down from the soapbox and face reality. Boy Scout Christmas tree lots have always had to deal with thefts.

So what can you do to stop this despicable act?

Try these five tips to stop Christmas tree thieves in their tracks:

  1. Lock your trees by tying them to stakes, like Troop 374 did, or chaining them together so they’re harder to move individually.
  2. Secure your lot by surrounding it with fencing — electrified barbed wire optional. Sure, this won’t stop the most-determined thieves, but it will slow them down.
  3. Install motion detectors. Just Google the phrase “motion detector alarm” and you’ll find a variety of options. Some connect to a phone line and will remotely — and silently — call you when they detect movement. Other, cheaper units simply sound a high-decibel alarm.
  4. Hire round-the-clock security. An expensive option, sure, but nothing beats a visible human presence. If you have enough willing volunteers, you could always enlist parents or troop alumni on their winter break from college to do this for free. Offer all-you-can-drink coffee, and/or give them a discount on buying a tree for themselves.
  5. Set up surveillance cameras to record thieves. This didn’t thwart the annual thefts at Troop 374′s lot, but it did give police valuable evidence. An inexpensive webcam connected to a computer could serve this purpose. Or if you have Wi-Fi at your lot, a device like a Dropcam will instantly alert you on your iPhone or Android whenever it detects motion.

And if a tree still gets stolen, follow the trail of pine needles.

How does your troop prevent this sort of theft? Share ideas by leaving a comment below.

10 thoughts on “How do you stop a Christmas tree thief?

  1. How Sad!!! All that I can really suggest is that she probably can’t afford to buy a tree and still wants to have her kids celebrate Christmas. Pray for her! She probably needs the prayers more than the Scouts need the money.

    • Then she should ask them if she could have one. Better yet she could put some time in helping them sell the trees and get one that way.

    • As one commenter on YouTube joked “now off to WalMart to steal the presents.” We’re talking about a Christmas tree, here, not bread or milk. It’s a want. And it’s a want that she knows is coming every year and has 12 months to save up for.

  2. I am the former Scoutmaster of Troop 374 and also the person interviewed inside near the computer. I have been dealing with tree theft for almost 30 years of the 55+ years we have been selling trees.

    Theft is almost impossible to eliminate and sadly it must be part of the budget. And everything about having a successful tree lot is location, location and LOCATION!!!

    Back in the days when heating oil was 50 cents a gallon and before guns started appearing in robberies we used to have the boys (3-4) take turns sleeping at the lot. Would NEVER consider doing that today.

    Funny that you mentioned “follow the trail of needles”. I actually did that one year and followed them right to the back yard where the three stolen trees were stashed right under the kids (back yard) tree house. The dad was VERY interested in what we found and proved to be quite helpful .

    One item you did not mention is motion detectors on the lights too. I had all the overhead lights on a motion detector and the police could spot them on from half a mile away. The problem was the wind kept triggering them too and I never really found an ideal solution for our location.

    The cameras has been an expensive investment. I can be setting at home and see a person drive up. I can remotely talk to them (with Skype) and let them know how soon I can be there. However the cameras were installed as much for safety while we were OPEN! Rather than just to catch a thief. In fact if this ends up catching the person, it will be the FIRST time it will have actually worked. (I have LOTS of video of other people taking trees). If you do not have a license number, the police cannot do much unless they recognize the person. And probably WILL not bother for a $50 tree. (They have much bigger problems). I now have a better camera specifically for capturing license numbers but unfortunately we had higher priority problems and it had not installed (yet).

    I do however want to give our local Bellefontaine Neighbors police the HIGHEST appreciation for their efforts! Every time I have a new video I know they will try their hardest to help.

    All in all every lot is going to be different and you just do the best you can.

    • The police should make this a higher priority – I see it as higher than catching a person doing 10 mph over the speed limit, but they seem to have lots of time for that function. Catch the criminals and then courts – Prosecute them! This is what keeps crime under control ..not just giving them another chance or by lightening a sentence.

  3. Forgot to mention that nightvision cameras (the ones with a ring of leds around the lens) are the WORST kind of camera to use for capturing license numbers. They are great for getting the car and the person, but they over range when viewing highly reflective material on the license plate and all you get is a saturated white square where the plate is located. So you actually need tow different cameras. The best camera to use for license plates is a very low LUX black and white camera with regular flood lights.

  4. Our troop has worked with our sister Ship on tree lot over the years, but for the first time last year, the troop took over the purchasing and set up of the lot of the tree lot. it was decided that we wouldn’t leave all of our trees at the lot, the common area in front of a VFW hall, a leader would take home the back up inventory on a trailer. We only lost 3 trees last year versus the 7 to 10 during previous years. It seems no one wanted to take a tree from the stands because it was too obvious.

  5. Our troop sells balsam wreaths, we have never had quite the same incident described as our customers pre-order them and we deliver them. The only incident of stealing we have had is a wreath stolen from the flatbed of a truck of a father planning on helping his son deliver after work.

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