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February 1, 2018 10:45 AM, EST
Cargo Thefts Drop as Police, Fleets Fight Back
Broken Lock Bruce Harmon for Transport Topics

Cargo thefts fell 36% in the fourth quarter of 2017, a continuation of a steady drop as fleets addressed the issue and states with large cargo hubs devoted more law enforcement manpower to the problem, according to CargoNet.

There were 169 cargo thefts in the fourth quarter, down from 266 in the same 2016 period, reports CargoNet, which has tracked and analyzed American and Canadian cargo theft since January 2010. The average value of a theft was $196,109, and an estimated $145 million in cargo was stolen.

The value of the thefts dropped nearly in half from $31.4 million in the fourth quarter of 2016 to $16.3 million last year. In addition, there were 1,479 stolen tractors, trailers or intermodal chassis in 2017, a 15% decline from 2016, and a 39% drop since 2013.

For the year, cargo thefts dropped nearly 17% with 741 in 2017 compared with 891 in 2016.

The drop follows a steady decline since 2013 when there were 1,144 cargo thefts. The drop can be attributed to efforts by fleets and the police, CargoNet Vice President of Operations Keith Lewis said.

He notes that fleets have been adopting such tactics as team driving, the use of better locks on trailer doors and the widespread use of GPS tracking devices that provide better monitoring of the driver and the truck.

States such as California have developed multiple cargo theft task forces encompassing a slew of law enforcement agencies. The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach rank Nos. 1 and 2 as the nation’s busiest ports.

Lewis said the California Highway Patrol, the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the LA County Sheriff and nearby counties such as San Bernardino and Riverside have staff fighting cargo theft.

“The officers may look at multiple crimes but cargo theft is a part of it. They may team with the Los Angeles Police Department or the highway patrol’s Cargo Theft Interdiction Program (CTIP),” Lewis said.

California cargo thefts fell from their recent high of 72 in the second quarter of 2016 to 27 in last year’s fourth quarter.

Lewis also believes that the rise in e-commerce has made it tougher for criminals to rip off trailers that are sitting unattended for several days. The quick delivery time that much of e-commerce demands “has changed shipping patterns of manufacturers. Shippers don’t have time to (have trucks) sit at a truck stop or rest area,” Lewis said.

Instead, the goods may be going straight from the manufacturer or merchant to a fulfillment center, and then to the consumer.

Still, theft from trucks left unattended for several days accounted for 37% of cargo thefts last year. In these cases, there typically was no electronic tracking, witness or surveillance to determine the exact day of the loss.

The drop in thefts is good news, but criminals are always looking for a new angle or weak spot to exploit, Lewis said.

One current scam involves a crew of thieves using stolen credit card numbers to purchase building materials and pay for transportation services to move the materials from one part of the country to another. They sell the materials in the new location, pocket the proceeds and skip out on the credit card bills.

Jersey City, N.J.-based CargoNet breaks down the data by stolen commodity type, theft incident location and date, cargo origination/destination, loss value and other categories.