The latest train robberies in Los Angeles, which also happened to be the most recent ones on record, are a sign that crime is escalating at an alarming rate. The L.A. police department has responded with increased surveillance and more officers patrolling trains in order to crack down on the robbers before they strike again while they’re stumped by their next move
During a trip to Jerome, Ariz., earlier this month, Michelle Wilde purchased a piece of sand art. Rather of carrying it home, she had the $145 frame sent to her.
The parcel wound transported near to a train track in East Los Angeles, instead of landing to her house in Everett, Wash. The frame had vanished. The box was still there.
Thousands of cartons were discovered littering along Union Pacific Corp. UNP 1.76 percent rails in the heart of Los Angeles lately. The railway carriages had been broken into, and products sent by Dr. Martens, Harbor Freight Tools, and local enterprises had been stolen. The incident has sparked a blame game among the railroad, local leaders, and police about who is to blame and how to prevent a new twist on one of the country’s oldest crimes.
“What is it that people are breaking into [railcars] and no one is doing anything about it?” Ms. Wilde said when a Wall Street Journal reporter phoned her to update her of the status of her gift. “We’re in the 13th year of a pandemic, so nothing about human behavior shocks me.”
Since December 2020, Union Pacific has experienced a 160 percent spike in illegal rail theft in Los Angeles, with higher increases in the months preceding up to Christmas, when trailers are filled with product for retailers or presents transported to households. Union Pacific has lost $5 million in the last year, despite having a market value of $155 billion. Losses incurred by customers shipping on its railways are not included in this figure.
Since December 2020, Union Pacific has observed a 160 percent increase in illicit rail theft in Los Angeles.
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Train robberies have been around since the beginning of railways, and Union Pacific has had its fair share of well-known heists. Butch Cassidy and his crew stole the Union Pacific Overland Flyer No. 1 in Wyoming in 1899. The gang came to a halt and detonated a bomb in the train’s safe. A posse was sent to track down the robbers.
In other regions of the nation, freight trains that halt or creep through communities are periodically raided by criminals, who take anything from whiskey to appliances. The railways use their own police personnel to fight the issue. Union Pacific employs around 200 police officers, however they are responsible for thousands of miles of track across 23 states.
Rail theft has been a primarily small-scale issue, according to Union Pacific CEO Lance Fritz. What is going on in Los Angeles is unique. He noted that a few years ago, opportunistic people may observe a mile-plus-long train chugging into town and force open a car to examine what was inside, maybe steal a few goods, but “now, it’s more coordinated.”
Thousands of unwrapped parcels are scattered throughout a Union Pacific freight train near Los Angeles.
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The rails damaged are connected to a Union Pacific intermodal rail yard where containers are transferred between trucks and trains. The rail corridor transports containers from surrounding ports as well as trailers loaded with Amazon.com Inc., FedEx Corp., and United Parcel Service Inc. parcels heading for various sorting centers around the United States.
Local news video of goods scattered over the rails went viral earlier this month. Empty parcels were still heaped on the sidewalks along the tracks on Thursday. Railcars with their doors hung open could be seen when trains passed past.
In a letter to Los Angeles authorities in December, Union Pacific complained that the city was not doing enough to monitor the area and punish trespassers.
According to Adrian Guerrero, a general director of public relations for Union Pacific, many of individuals caught for searching through railcars get their charges reduced to a misdemeanor or minor infraction, and are frequently freed promptly. Mr. Guerrero said, “We simply don’t see the criminal justice system holding these individuals responsible.”
Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón responded to Mr. Guerrero in a letter delivered on Friday, saying the number of cases filed with his office in which Union Pacific was named as the victim has decreased each of the previous two years, from 78 in 2019 to 47 in 2021. According to Mr. Gascón, the DA filed charges in 55 percent of the instances, while the rest were rejected due to a lack of evidence or because they didn’t contain claims of burglary, theft, or tampering.
Mr. Gascón added, “It is highly revealing that other big railroad companies in the vicinity are not seeing the same amount of theft at their facilities as UP.” “It is not my office’s responsibility to keep your website safe.”
Union Pacific’s police team was decreased in 2020, according to Los Angeles Police Capt. German Hurtado, who works at the Hollenbeck station that covers the region, leaving the firm with just six cops patrolling between Yuma, Ariz., and the Pacific coast. According to him, resignations and Covid-19 have left the LAPD short of 2,000 officers, including 50 at his station.
According to him, the LAPD has ran various task teams along the lines and has arrested roughly 125 individuals for rail-related charges like as burglary and trespassing since August.
To counteract the theft, Union Pacific officials said they have deployed scores of agents to police the region in Los Angeles in recent months, and they are deploying drones, sophisticated fences, and trespass detection systems. The railroad also said that it is constantly recruiting additional officers. “While we have a private police force, they do not take the place of local law enforcement,” a spokesman said.
California Governor Gavin Newsom paid a visit to the spot on Thursday and assisted in the cleanup of some of the boxes strewn over the rails. He bragged about a provision in his proposed budget that will provide local law enforcement $255 million over the next three years and form a specialized unit to combat retail, rail, and vehicle theft.
Mr. Newsom said of the thefts, “There’s nothing acceptable about this.” “It had the appearance of a third-world nation.”
Rail theft, according to Jim Foote, CEO of CSX Corp., a freight railroad based in the eastern United States, isn’t as prevalent elsewhere as it is in Los Angeles. He remembers a similar issue in Chicago 20 years ago when working for Canadian National Railway. To cope with the situation, the railroad avoided stopping trains where they were being plundered.
“We do all we can to secure our customers’ cargo,” Mr. Foote said, “but if the train comes to a halt at the wrong time and at the wrong place, the modern-day Jesse James will get you.”
Casey Rowcliffe had placed an order for a battery for his RV, but it never arrived. He hadn’t given his lost shipment any attention until he watched the popular footage of the cluttered train tracks in Los Angeles.
“I assumed it was stopped in the port or that someone had it,” said the 45-year-old general contractor. The battery’s exact placement is unknown. However, a Journal writer discovered a box with his Bellingham, Wash., address. “You choose mine out of all those packages?” Mr. Rowcliffe expressed his thoughts.
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FedEx has anti-theft procedures in place, according to a spokesman, including improved railcar locking systems. FedEx works with railways to recover any shipments that have been tampered with when railcars are tampered with. A UPS representative stated that deterring thieves will need a collaborative reaction, and that the business had simplified the claims procedure for when goods are delayed.
The modest Arizona store that gave Ms. Wilde her frame, Nellie Bly Kaleidoscopes and Art Glass, sends out anything from three to twenty parcels every day. When the business learned that one of their packages had been ripped open in Los Angeles, it contacted Ms. Wilde, delivered a replacement, and began the claims procedure.
According to Anne Miranda, the store’s shipping manager, just a few shipments a year have issues. “That was before everything went insane,” she said.
Due to an increase in smash-and-grab thefts during Christmas shopping season, merchants are looking for innovative methods to improve security and preserve property. According to retailers, organized criminal instances have increased as a result of the epidemic. Oak Brook Police Department photo
—This essay was co-written by Jim Oberman.
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