Protecting the Goods

| April 07, 2005

Billions of dollars are lost and many lives risked every year as ever-bolder thieves loot the trucking industry.

Thick with Thieves
The roots of cargo theft reach inside and outside the industry.

Miami Heat
Thieves learn the hard way that an idling Pete isn’t as innocent as it looks.

Some thieves turn to desperate measures to take cargo.

Dwindling Resources
Cargo theft takes a back seat to war on terror.

Big Gain, Little Pain
Weak penalties, high profits make cargo theft more attractive than dealing in narcotics.

National retailer Target Corp. doesn’t take cargo theft lightly. The second largest importer of ocean containers in the United States, Target has a large team of security officers tracking theft.

“It’s a global market for these goods. Stolen goods that used to show up 50 miles away now show up thousands of miles away,” says Tim Kennedy, a senior investigator for Target. “We have to take responsibility for the supply chain from factory floor to store floor.”

But even companies that put a heavy emphasis on cargo security, some of them employing the latest security technology, find that fighting cargo theft can be an uphill battle. Negligent and complacent drivers, easily circumvented security devices and even the design of most trucks and trailers make almost any load an easy mark.

One major problem is drivers who don’t pay attention, law enforcement officers say. They will park a rig with a million-dollar load on the street while visiting a friend or spouse. When they return, the rig is gone. “In at least 80 to 90 percent of these thefts, the driver should have known better,” says private investigator Jim Harris, a founder of Los Angeles County’s anti-cargo theft unit.

“We hear of a lot of thefts on Monday morning,” says Lt. Ed Petow, commander of the Miami-based TOMCATS. “Drivers are passing near their homes, they drop a trailer at somewhere like a big department store and leave it there for the weekend. The thieves are out looking for them. Let me ask you: If you had a car with $200,000 in the trunk would you leave it unattended at a Wal-Mart parking lot over the weekend?”

George Rodriguez, cargo security director for the Transportation Security Administration and a former security director at Yellow Freight, estimates only 20 percent to 30 percent of trailers are locked.

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