Cargo crime crunch

by Carroll McCormick

MONTREAL, Que. – It’s a criminal free-for-all featuring cargo theft, fraud, cyber-fraud, identity theft, extortion, robbery, drug and weapons smuggling, brokerage fraud, Internet crime, credit card theft, gun violence, kidnapping, murder, infiltration by organized crime…but the Canadian trucking industry thinks it’s ready to fight back.

As proof of a new commitment to shut down this crime Mecca, last year the Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA) with the cooperation and financial support of a pretty long list of trucking, insurance and police parties hired Lansdowne Technologies to prepare what it termed a “threat and risk assessment” of cargo crime in Canada.

The report bills itself as the first of its kind in Canada, possibly the world, “to clearly explain cargo crime in Canada and to promote awareness of the issues and challenges facing Canada in coming to grips with the problem of cargo crime.”

Carriers, insurance companies and police have been squawking about cargo crime since Canadians invented long-haul.
There has also never been a shortage of sincerity and great ideas about how to pick away at cargo crime, including reporting systems like Cargo Watch and a long list of security measures and protocols many carriers have adopted.

Unfortunately, there has been a lack of unity in the industry. “There has been disjointed interest with it in the trucking industry, let alone between the trucking industry and law enforcement,” says Jennifer Fox, vice-president, customs and compliance, CTA.

“It is a blame game,” spouts Rob Ruiters, who recently stepped down from an 18-year tenure as the RCMP’s national program manager for the Pipeline Convoy Program. “Everyone is pointing the finger at each other. The only thing (carriers) care about is what is affecting them today. I have been trying to have the trucking industry develop more of a sense of ownership, to take on more responsibility. They are good old boys and there is too much trust.”

Recently, so it is said, players have become, well, particularly concerned. “There are more crimes, victims and types of crimes. We have seen a lot more interest and cooperation in the past two years,” Fox says.

The report itself is proof of this. “Just getting the CTA – a consensus for all trucking associations to come on board – was a big deal,” Ruiters acknowledges.

Lansdowne completed the report this spring. It is considered to be too sensitive to make public, but Lansdowne prepared an executive summary that CTA released this April.

Historically, cargo crime has been underrated. Pockets of excellent police activity notwithstanding, police have triaged it into the ditch as a victimless – ie. low priority – crime and politicians have blown it off as an issue too thin on proof and missing a panic button. The goal of the report is to change this very mistaken impression, but there is much to do.

“There are no reports out there, no data collection, no definition of cargo theft. We were not able to get a good picture of cargo crime anywhere in Canada. There was no real starting point. We tried to find data, but it is not out there. We were scrambling around to pick up pieces. This is now a starting point. The report is to set the tone,” Fox explains.

How big is this rolling disaster? It could be $5 billion a year big, but this is a guess, not gospel. “This is a figure quoted by an interviewee in the insurance industry. This was his most accurate bet,” Fox says.

Recall too that a decade ago the Ontario Trucking Association put Canadian transport company losses and claims at over $1 billion. “There is no data on the value of merchandise stolen,” Fox insists. In any case, stolen goods are only part of the problem. “It very quickly became not an issue of cargo theft, but of cargo crime,” Fox says.

Is this really victimless? Take a reality pill: Truckers are being threatened, robbed at gunpoint, kidnapped and murdered.
“Drivers are really hard to come by. Ask them what is on their minds, as an increasing point of discussion, and they say, ‘personal security.’ This is a big negative in the industry,” points out Rob Penner, vice-president, operations, Bison Transport, which contributed resources to the CTA study.

Carriers, insurance companies and every Canadian are paying, penny for penny, cargo criminals’ generous wages. The executive summary also notes that the proceeds of cargo crime are used to fund other illegal activities such as gun and drug smuggling.

Amazingly, plenty of people insist that there is no real problem.

“The ‘give a s–t’ meter is in southern Ontario, but not elsewhere in Canada. In other parts of the country truckers are saying that this is not a problem. But it is happening all over,” Ruiters says.

In the executive summary’s rough sketch, the west coast is the land of opportunistic thefts. The Windsor to Montreal corridor is the scorched earth of highly organized cargo crime. The east coast is a bit of a mystery.

“On the east coast we are not sure if it is not happening as much, or not being reported as much. There is no data for the east coast,” Fox says.

In Nova Scotia, for example, the RCMP says that there have been no trailer thefts. This may be, but it is equally likely that thefts are simply not being reported. In fact, fearing poaching of their customers by other carriers, insurance rate hikes and just general bad publicity, real or perceived, carriers can be very secretive about being victimized.

“Everyone here is in competition mentality,” says Cody Jorgenson, co-owner, Terra Nova Transport of Petitcodiac, N.B. He had a trailer stolen out of a secure yard in Grand Falls this July.

Cargo crime can also get paved over by police as “theft over $5,000” or something equally featureless; inconsistent coding of police reports across the country is a recognized impediment to collecting cargo crime data.

“The lack of a standardized reporting system to capture cargo crime activities is hampering the effective combating of this crime,” notes the executive summary in a section titled Law Enforcement Challenges.

“There is absolutely no standardization for reporting. There are so many ways it can be reported, depending on how the office picks it up. We’ve seen reports of theft over $5,000 and truck and trailer, with no mention of stolen cargo. No-one had a clue that any cargo was even missing,” says Garry Robertson, national director of investigations with Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC).

The law does not differentiate cargo theft from general property theft, the executive summary notes, and penalties do not match the seriousness of the crime.

“Police sources note that someone caught with $10,000 in cocaine will spend time in prison, but someone caught stealing $1 million worth of plasma TVs may not even go to jail,” writes Lansdowne. The fallout from toothless laws includes police turning their attention elsewhere and a sense of learned helplessness in the industry.

“When we got the trucking community together we were told that most didn’t report thefts,” Penner recalls. Why? “Police were too busy. They can’t do anything. I was surprised by it and continue to be surprised by it.”

There is so much wrong with this picture, but much that can be done. For example, the executive summary recommends that: simple theft be redefined to include cargo theft; make the penalties fit the crimes; make legislative changes to give the law some bite; give police more training and resources; and encourage carriers to adopt best practices to improve their security.
Yet if wishes were fishes there would be less cargo crime today, not more. It has never been a lack of ideas that has kept the industry and law enforcement floundering; rather, the flaw has been in their execution. But if one were to pick a single point from the executive summary and shout it out from Victoria to St. John’s, it is the need for data collection and communication.
The CTA has been working closely with IB
C to develop a trucking incident report to fill out and send to its members.

“The incident report is being circulated to provincial trucking associations. They are soliciting feedback to see if carriers will use it. Over time we will start to see where thefts originate, where recoveries happen, the value of loads, what was recovered, how was the crime initiated. This will assist CTA in getting more law enforcement resources dedicated to cargo crime,” Fox explains.

Robertson adds, “Trucking associations and members like the idea that we are separate and apart from the insurance companies. We are independent and non-profit. We are not collecting information for resale. The sole purpose of collecting this cargo theft data is analysis. This has been lacking for a very long time.”

Good data will build a case to take to government. Also critical, on a day-to-day basis, is rapid reporting by victims.
“If we can get this data and get a bulletin out immediately and police can go search this system 24/7 and the police are preparing a warrant…this would be a good starting point,” Robertson says.

Referring to one theft data collection project in Ontario, Robertson notes, “In the first six weeks collecting data in the Golden Horseshoe, three patterns emerged immediately. We were able to develop one into a successful police project immediately.”
There is another, underutilized resource that can be tapped to aid in the rapid reporting and broadcasting of cargo crimes committed or being plotted: the millions of eyes and ears out there.

“Discussions are ongoing with Crime Stoppers groups,” Robertson says. “The problem so far is, ‘who do I call? Whom do I report a theft to’?” There is also Twitter, Facebook …

This enthusiasm has the ring of ‘deja vu all over again,’ to borrow from Yogi Berra, but Robertson insists that this time it is different.

“All the participants in this study are very keen to follow through on this. Everyone has said from day one that we have to collaborate, and they mean it.” Fox adds, “There has never before been this level of interest.”

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