OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — It’s package theft before it ever reaches your porch.
Thieves have been taking to a railway in Los Angeles at record numbers. Omaha-based Union Pacific owns the railway and operates trains in that area, where the thieves rip through packages, take what they like, and leave the rest behind.
Union Pacific said it had estimated losses of $5 million in 2021, which doesn't include the last 10 days of the year, part of a busy season.
A Los Angeles Police Department captain told the Los Angeles Times that Union Pacific is partly to blame for not having more security.
“We have millions of dollars of items and equipment, but it is unpoliced,” he told the paper.
But Union Pacific said it needs help from local prosecutors to help deter crime.
It said in a statement: "Union Pacific has 1,600 employees covering 275 miles of track at our nine rail facilities throughout Los Angeles County. We've increased the number of special agents, drones, specialized fencing, and trespass detection systems. Union Pacific’s agents have made hundreds of arrests, but less than half are booked, and some are released in less than 24 hours. We need the LA District Attorney’s help to ensure there are consequences for those who prevent us from safely moving customer goods.
Union Pacific asked for help in a letter to the district attorney a month ago. Over 90 containers were broken into each day on average.
Union Pacific estimated over 100 arrests had been made in the three months before the Dec. 20 letter, dozens by their own officers and others from local law enforcement. "Of all of those arrests, however, UP has not been contacted for any court proceedings," the letter states.
A UP spokesperson said Thursday that "we are definitely making headway, getting the situation under control."
"We are addressing the unfortunate situation of cargo thefts. We are grateful to our partners, including the Governor of California, law enforcement agencies including LAPD, LASO and CHP, and our customers including UPS, that are standing with us. We've increased the number of special agents, drones, specialized fencing, and trespass detection systems to combat this criminal activity. We are confident these collective steps and partnerships will ensure we can safely and securely transport the products our communities rely upon.
"We are grateful to our partners, including the Governor of California, law enforcement agencies including LAPD, LASO and CHP, and our customers including UPS, that are standing with us," read Union Pacific's latest statement on Thursday. "We've increased the number of special agents, drones, specialized fencing, and trespass detection systems to combat this criminal activity. We are confident these collective steps and partnerships will ensure we can safely and securely transport the products our communities rely upon."
UP points to no-cash bail and a policy that prevents prosecutions of some misdemeanor crimes as hindering officials' ability to deter the thefts.
UP said in the letter it was considering changes in its operating plan to avoid Los Angeles County.
"We do not take this effort lightly, particularly during the supply chain crisis, as this drastic change to our operations will create significant impacts and strains throughout the local, state, and national supply chain systems," the letter reads.
"Criminals boast to our officers that charges will be pled down to simple trespassing — which bears no serious consequence," the letter reads.
Erkut Sönmez, a professor in supply chain management at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said it's been a recurring problem that's getting "more and more serious."
Theft in the transportation of goods is becoming more common during the supply chain crisis, he said. As the supply chains moves slowly, and shipping containers sit idle at loading or on trains, theft becomes more common. The Port of Los Angeles handles around 40% of incoming goods.
But Sönmez said that worsens the problem as transportation costs rise, and inventory costs rise for suppliers.
Sönmez said Union Pacific's suggestion to move from Los Angeles County is similar to drug stores closing stores with high theft rates.
In any event, Sönmez said consumers could see the impact in price increases, whether that be because of the stolen goods, extra security, or UP making serious changes to avoid operations in Los Angeles County.