Piles of packages can be seen tossed along the train tracks in LA County, and it's not just a pain -- it's costing everyone money. Data shows California is the top targeted state for cargo thieves.
NBCLA obtained footage from November 2020 showing thieves captured on camera who were seemingly not concerned about being seen. The merchandise strewn about included Amazon packages, returns, medical supplies, and more being shipped by UPS and FedEx mail.
Most of the packages were pulled out of shipping containers that had been loaded onto trains in LA headed out across the U.S.
So why is this happening? A company called CargoNet, part of Verisk, tracks cargo theft across the country for retailers and insurance companies. They say the pandemic pushed people to shop online, which created a big increase in cargo theft.
Lewis is a former officer and now vice president of operations for CargoNet.
He says the average theft was $166,000, up by about $20,000 from the year before.
National data obtained by the I-Team shows that California is the top-targeted state for cargo thieves, followed by Texas and Florida.
Electronics are the most stolen items, followed by household goods.
Throughout the state, Fontana was the city with the most stolen cargo, followed by Los Angeles. Compton was in fourth place.
"Nobody steals cargo to go out and buy broccoli and put it on the dinner table," Lewis said.
Lewis says these are not just crimes of opportunity.
"What we're seeing now is there's a couple of organized crews that are working electronic thefts in the Southern California area," he said.
Video from a Union Pacific railroad property in Lincoln Heights
Union Pacific shared a letter sent Dec. 20 to Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascon saying “over 100 arrests have been made of active criminals vandalizing our trains." However, "of all those arrests... Union Pacific has not been contacted for any court proceedings.”
A spokesman from Gascon’s office sent NBCLA a response:
“Some cases presented to our office by Union Pacific have been filed, such as burglary and grand theft, while others have been declined due to insufficient evidence. We make charging decisions based on the evidence.”
However when the NBCLA I-Team first asked the DA’s office about these thefts on the heels of our early reporting back in November, we received this response on Dec. 22, two days after Union Pacific voiced their concerns:
"I checked with our organized crime folks and they don’t have anything. They did say CHP had a task force that dealt with the type of theft...Also apparently there’s an LAPD detective in commercial crimes who may know about this subject."
"That cost obviously is passed on to the shipper, who then in turn passes it on to the manufacturer and the prices go up," Lewis said
It's a crime of opportunity, with growing opportunities every day.
On Wednesday, LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said in recent years, a specialized unit that focused on cargo thefts was eliminated, and he blames funding cuts for that decision. He says his office, along with Union Pacific and federal agencies, are now working on a plan to add more security and patrols along the tracks.