Cargo Theft: Costing Nine Billion Dollars And Counting

by Bruce Richards

In my October column in this space I wrote about the growing concern with criminals targeting and infiltrating the trucking industry. One of the people I quoted was Sgt. Rob Ruiters, national program coordinator of the RCMP’s Pipeline/Convoy Program, which focuses on this type of underworld activity.

Attentive readers will recall Ruiters’ view that the effect of having a truck or trailer stolen goes well beyond the immediate costs of lost product and equipment, delayed delivery to a customer, or even the financial impact. He is also concerned that the equipment can become a tool for organized crime in their smuggling of people or products or, even more alarming, as a weapon for terrorists.

I’m sure it is difficult for most fleet operators to consider that the theft of one of their trucks could be the prelude to a terrorist organization implementing an attack. And because most of us don’t think in those terms, these incidents are most often considered as just an inconvenience.

In many cases, Ruiters told me, carriers don’t even bother reporting the theft, preferring to simply accept it as a cost of doing business. And that lack of reporting leads directly to a lack of statistical data that would shed light on the magnitude of the problem. And following the daisy chain, without some sense of the magnitude of the problem it is difficult to generate the will within the law enforcement and political communities to devote sufficient resources to the problem.

In preparing for the October column, I also conducted an informal poll among PMTC members to gauge what was happening, and the responses were astounding. Members reported thefts of truck and trailer equipment, tires, fuel and freight. Thefts took place in locked yards and on the road in truck stops. Warehouses have been broken into and product removed in a truck stolen from the same yard! It has all become so brazen.

Among the many defensive measures that carriers use are equipment tracking, devices that bind the lock rods together on a trailer, well lit and fenced yards, and advising drivers on suitable areas to park when on the road. But Ruiters opined that one of the best preventive measures is thorough background checks on everyone involved in freight movement – not just drivers -and continuous monitoring of the ‘temperature’ of the employee group. Unhappy employees can lead to relationships with unsavory characters.

Some segments of the trucking community are a little more conscious of the need for security. For example, carriers that operate across the Canada/US border and participate in the C-TPAT or PIP programs have implemented such security measures as controlled access to their yards, extra lighting, fencing and even security of their I.T. systems, because the Customs programs demand that type of security.

I followed up my discussion with Ruiters by speaking with Greg St. Croix, vice-president of Marsh Canada, a leading truck insurer who shared his views on a problem that has escalated to a point where it is estimated to cost Canadians around $9 billion a year. And that number could be low since it is thought that only about one in four incidents are even reported.

In St. Croix’s view, one that is shared by many, industry generally makes it pretty easy for criminals to operate. Despite the increased value of equipment and products, many companies haven’t updated their security practices in years. For example trailers are still dropped in unfenced yards or at the rear of industrial complexes; drivers are not trained in awareness techniques that could help avoid theft or hijacking; and the yards of many shippers and carriers are inadequately protected. As well, many employers seem to be reluctant to conduct thorough background checks on all employees involved with the movement of goods, which of course can open the door to infiltration by criminals.

The irony is that advice on security and training is often freely available from insurance companies or brokers, or from the local police force. All you need to do is ask.

Conversely, St. Croix suggests that criminals have gone upscale using such tactics as attaching mobile GPS tracking devices to trailers and then following those trailers at their leisure until they are left unprotected. Gangs arrange ‘theft to order,’ often using information gleaned from employees of shippers or carriers and dispose of the stolen material so quickly that it is difficult to trace. Equipment and cargo theft is understandably a lower priority for law enforcement than some other types of criminal activity, but it is beginning to gain some profile in the press and on the speaking circuit.

Partly as a result of that publicity, a forum was held in Ottawa in November during which representatives of the Canadian and US law enforcement community along with the trucking industry, including PMTC, discussed their concerns and tried to scope the magnitude of the problem. We all remain hopeful that the concerns aired at the meeting will help focus everyone’s attention on the problem. It will require a collective and concerted approach from industry and enforcement agencies to deal with the problem if we are to enhance the security of our truck transportation network.

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