Looting of LA freight train ‘out of control’ as thieves exacerbate supply chain bottlenecks
The scene in Southern California looks like something out of a disaster movie – but it’s not.
Thousands of boxes littering Union Pacific (UNP) railroad tracks in downtown Los Angeles bear witness to a spate of rail thefts that have taken place in recent months – compounding bottlenecks in the chain of supply and creating endless delays for consumers and merchants that likely cost millions, if not more.
Los Angeles has been a hub of major shipping issues in recent months, with the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach being a major part of global supply bottlenecks. The twin hubs handle around 40% of the country’s maritime imports, with the majority of goods worth nearly $450 billion ultimately moving by rail.
As retailers witness a wave of smash and grab thefts, rail heists are now taking center stage in the latest issue plaguing the industry. Over the weekend, Yahoo Finance saw several scavengers rummaging through marine litter, hoping to find valuables like electronics, clothing or anything else left behind by thieves.
Thieves looted cargo containers, taking packages belonging to people across the country from retailers like Amazon (AMZN), Target (TGT), Macy’s (M), Skechers and others, leading to viral images on social networks. The data of the The National Retail Federation found that the average loss organized crime exceeded $700,000 per billion in sales in 2020.
Some of the trash left behind included pills, skincare products, home decorations that the thieves either didn’t want or just didn’t think were valuable enough to take away.
On Saturday, Yahoo Finance found several packages, and when entering the tracking number information, they were marked as “en route – delayed”. One was addressed to the Oregon State Police by BPS Tactical Inc., a custom police equipment company.
Yahoo Finance called and sent photos to the agent and the company regarding their missing package.
“It’s really frustrating and these criminals are just taking over and they’re tearing up the box and taking what they want,” Sarah Blankenship, vice president of BPS Tactical, said in a phone interview.
Calling the thefts “out of control,” she demanded “consequences for stuff like that. It drives me crazy that something we did cost money and people work hard to do it and the soldier doesn’t get the equipment he needs, because someone used something he shouldn’t take.”
Blankenship said they were sending an outdoor vest worth over $500 to a soldier in Oregon, but explained that this experience had never happened before and luckily all of their packages are insured.
“I feel like the only thing that’s going to change is what happens to criminals and the consequences of what they should be facing for doing these kinds of things. They need more man- to enforce it,” she told Yahoo Finance.
“We won’t change the way we send things because we will still have to follow the same procedures, but we will certainly follow up more with our customers,” she added.
UP grapples with skyrocketing flights
The thefts appear to be a byproduct of a widespread pandemic-era public safety breakdown, which has tormented officials in big cities – and not just on the west coast. At New York, businesses and citizens are in open revolt against Manhattan’s newly elected officials District Attorney Alvin Bragg, amid plans to downgrade or simply not prosecute certain crimes.
Union Pacific, the railroad operating the freight trains, had cleared the area of the tracks where the boxes were found three months ago and then about 30 days ago, according to reports from CBS-Los Angeles.
The company said it has seen a more than 160% increase in criminal rail thefts in LA County since December 2020, and on average more than 90 containers are compromised each day.
For several months during this period, the increase over the previous year exceeded 200%, according to UP data. For the month of October 2021, it estimated the increase at more than 356% compared to the previous year.
According to LAPD data Through Nov. 27, property crimes are up 2.6% from the same time last year, but are actually down 6.6% from 2019.
However, the train robberies have created quality of life issues serious enough to make a Los Angeles City Councilman Joe Buscaino Declare UP Railroad properties in Districts 15 and 8 a public nuisance based on dumping, trash, and encampments near the tracks.
On Saturday afternoon, 17 cars from a UP train derailed in Lincoln Heights. Sources with knowledge of the situation told Yahoo Finance that thieves are deliberately causing these derailments to slow the train down and allow them to steal cargo containers.
Officials say they are working to clear the tracks after the derailment; no one on the train was injured and the cause is being investigated.
As Yahoo Finance was on the scene with cameras, three people were seen walking away with boxes of goods and a UP officer was seen with a man in handcuffs.
The railroad has increased the number of special agents on patrol and was exploring the use of tools such as drones, specialized fencing and intrusion detection systems, a representative told Yahoo Finance.
Keith Lewis, vice president of operations at CargoNet, a Verisk company that tracks cargo thefts, told Yahoo Finance that there is often a delay in reporting stolen goods.
“We have a significant backlog in reporting these incidents because they may happen on a Thursday or a Friday, and they may not happen until Monday,” Lewis said. “The criminals have two or three days to get away with the product, move it, repackage it, put it in another trailer, sell it.”
Lewis also noted that it was still unclear why there had been more rail thefts in recent months.
“I don’t know what’s causing the rise other than freight sitting more than it has been,” he explained.
In a letter to LA County District Attorney George Gascon, UP public affairs director Adrian Guerrero called the looting a “spiral crisis” that is forcing the company to weigh rerouting trains away of the.
Guerrero said more than 100 people have been arrested – but the robbers are “bragging to our officers that charges will be laid”, and are being released as soon as possible.
In response, Alex Bastian, an adviser to Gascon, said some cases brought to their office by the rail company had been filed for burglary and robbery, but other cases did not have enough evidence to prosecute. .
Dani Romero is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter: @daniromerotv
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