BANFF, Alta. -A security specialist with the RCMP is promoting a national crime awareness program, not unlike neighbourhood watch, but designed specifically for the trucking industry.
Sgt. Rob Ruiters is a coordinator for the national Pipeline/Convoy/Jetway program, a crime awareness and inspection program.
He travels the country, training other law enforcement personnel as well as the trucking industry, to become more educated about suspicious criminal activity – and to report it.
“There’s a problem with criminality in the transportation system,” he said at the Alberta Motor Transport Association’s recent convention. “That’s just a reality.”
By raising awareness, and by educating the trucking industry, Ruiters indicated that this type of crime watch could support the efforts of chronically under-staffed law enforcement agencies. Many police officers don’t have the time to effectively patrol commercial motor vehicles, he said, since violent crimes will always be a priority.
“If I can tell you any message, it’s this: If you’re waiting for us to help you, you’ll be waiting a long time. We can only help so much. We’re not saying we’re not interested. We’re not saying we’re not going to be there. The reality is, we’re all faced with challenges. We’ll do the best we can. The best people to help the problems you’re having within the transportation industry, are you folks – through best practices and starting to develop certain formats.”
In his entertaining and informative presentation, Ruiters described the problems facing law enforcement agencies when investigating suspicious activity along Canada’s highways. One problem, apart from lack of manpower, is the reluctance of police to inspect commercial vehicles and effectively interrogate the driver, despite a growing problem related to transporting contraband.
“No mater how any kind of criminality gets into in this country, at one time or another, it ends up in a motor vehicle,” he said.
The Pipeline/Convoy program began in the US in the 1980s, when cocaine shipments were arriving in Florida and subsequently shipped north to New York and Chicago by truck, according to Ruiters. Traffic police at that time began to notice commonalities with suspiciouslooking trucks and related seizures. Consequently, operation Convoy (motor vehicles)/Pipeline (commercial motor vehicles) was developed, with great success.
“They starting coming across trucks that were moving a lot of stuff that they shouldn’t be moving,” he said. “They found that big dope comes in big trucks.”
Ruiters started a similar Canadian program in the early 1990s, and one of his first initiatives was to promote greater inspections at the US/Canada border crossing, but he still isn’t impressed with the results.
“Customs said they were going to increase the amount of trucks checked at the border to 2%. I think they’re still working on it,” he said.
One of the mandates of the program is to promote greater awareness among police officers and to increase their investigational, conversational and awareness skills. Although many Canadian police officers are already seasoned about regular inspections with the motoring public, according to Ruiters, they still need to become more aware about suspicious criminal activity. “We know what the norms are. So what are we looking for? The anomalies.”
Ruiters told AMTA delegates how to spot suspicious activity that should be apparent to anybody who works in the trucking industry, and he gave a few specific examples. One incident was related to a driver of a truck who was stopped in Manitoba, near Winnipeg. Apparently, there were a number of suspicious indicators, such as: there were no mandatory markings on the exterior of the truck; there was an overwhelming odour of air freshener; and the cab curtain was closed, yet the driver was on his own. These were all clues that lead to an easy seizure after a simple inspection.
“There were several hockey bags sitting in the sleeper,” said Ruiters. “The last time I checked, most truck drivers by themselves, don’t have five hockey bags for luggage.”
Another example of a suspicious situation which should be apparent to anybody within the trucking industry was a lone tractor recently found bobtailing from West Vancouver to Toronto. The bobtail was eventually spotted by a police officer a few hours from any community, who wisely investigated.
“It was an unusual sight, which would not be considered cost-effective,” said Ruiters. “How do you make a buck out of that?”
He said the officer was also suspicious because such a long drive without a trailer would be quite uncomfortable.
“They’re not designed to be driven that way,” he added.
Other anomalies that tipped the officer in this case, were: the absence of a log book; the driver didn’t have a licence; and a small amount of marijuana was found in the cab, before more drugs were found in a roof compartment.
The security officer also warned about questionable trucking companies that undercut legitimate trucking organizations for the purpose of transporting contraband amongst a legal load.
“They can augment that load with their own load and they move it within the legitimate load,” he said. “They’ll hide it, so the product that’s being shipped is being compromised as well.”
Not only should fleet operators become more aware about criminal transportation activity, Ruiters recommended that fleet operators train all operational personnel to become educated and more aware about the same issue. These employees may easily detect unusual behaviour with drivers, structural changes to trucks, and other suspicious activity around the yard.
Employee drug use is another issue the trucking industry should be wary of, according to Ruiters. Law enforcement agencies have stopped many truck drivers who consider small amounts of marijuana harmless. That’s not necessarily the case, according to Ruiters, who advised the Alberta trucking industry to be aware of this safety issue.
“Some of them are driving your vehicles. That should be a real concern to you. You’ve got to wonder about the people driving in your trucks, working in your company, your warehouses. It’s definitely a safety concern,” he concluded.