At the red light in front of us, the driver got out of his old pickup truck and raised the hood. Dad shot a quick glance into his side view mirror and calmly announced, “We’re being robbed.”
Looking in the mirror on my side, I could tell the trailer doors were open. I felt the trailer shake. My dad didn’t move until the man in front of him put down his hood and got in his pickup. The traffic light turned green and the pickup made a quick turn to the right and roared out of sight. My dad set his brakes, grabbed his tire thumper and cautiously climbed down out of the cab. He told me to stay put, even though he knew the bandits who had been raiding our load of frozen chickens were probably gone.
Dad quickly closed the trailer doors and climbed back into the truck. At the nearest parking lot, we pulled in. This time I was allowed to get out. My dad estimated the thieves had taken about 20 cases. We were probably only stalled at the traffic light a little more than minute, but whoever robbed us managed to break the seal on the trailer and drive off with a tidy little profit for their quick, organized efforts.
I was probably about 10 years old, but the incident in Hawthorne, N.J., made the trip one to remember. I thought it was exciting, and I told all my school friends about it. About 12 years later, I was in the same town to pick up a car that needed to be transported back to Boaz, Ala. After spending a couple of years on the road, I didn’t feel the same excitement about the possibility of being robbed. I had come to realize how scary and dangerous the road could be.
Inside this issue is a special report on cargo theft called “Highway Robbery.” Cargo theft is a huge industry problem that often puts drivers in the crosshairs. Truckers, fleets, retailers and insurance companies share in picking up the tab for stolen goods. Some experts estimate cargo theft costs us as much as $20 billion annually. And whether it is a few cases of frozen chickens or an entire load of high-tech equipment, it has an expensive ripple effect and the cost is eventually passed along to the consumer. For example, according to the American Association of Insurance Services, cargo theft adds more than $100 to the cost of every personal computer shipped in the United States.
Cargo theft encompasses a wide range of criminal operations. Some networks are very sophisticated, using the latest technology to pilfer and fence. Other operations are sloppy and petty. Much of the theft involves collusion by drivers or warehouse workers.
While most cargo theft is nonviolent, there is a frightening tendency toward bolder crimes such as hijackings. Truckers have been shot, stabbed, kidnapped and killed by thugs who will go to any length to get the cargo they want.
As you will see in our report, we need stiffer penalties and more resources to help fight cargo theft. Because most cargo theft is a property theft crime, local law enforcement often puts a low priority on the problem. Task forces that specialize in stopping cargo theft are often frustrated by weak penalties that allow the criminals to get off with a mere slap on the hand that steals.
And finally, a great deal of cargo theft goes unreported. Sometimes it’s because the victims don’t want the publicity, which they see as a calling card that makes them a mark for future criminal activity. Being a high-risk carrier also can make insurance rates skyrocket. And sometimes victims don’t report theft crimes because they don’t feel it’s worth the effort.
I remember my dad telling me about returning to his truck after enjoying dinner to find his spare tire stolen. He drove next door to a used tire business and bought his just-stolen tire back from the business for $50. I asked him why he didn’t call the police. He said paying $50 for his own tire was a much better deal than fooling with the hassle of filling out a police report when he needed to be on the road making money.
We hope this special report will bring greater attention to a serious problem that appears to be getting worse. But most of all, we feel it offers valuable, commonsense information to help keep drivers from becoming the next victim. Remember, to a thief you are a rolling warehouse without fences.