TORONTO, Ont. - It's no secret that cargo theft is a fact of life for the trucking industry - more than $1 billion worth of cargo is reported stolen in Canada per year according to the Ontario Truckin...
TORONTO, Ont. – It’s no secret that cargo theft is a fact of life for the trucking industry – more than $1 billion worth of cargo is reported stolen in Canada per year according to the Ontario Trucking Association, and over half of that is in Ontario. And it’s estimated that North American losses exceed $10 billion annually.
But is the recent spate of news reports concerning cargo theft an indication that it is on the increase yet again? And is a seeming increase in attacks on drivers an indication cargo thefts have taken a more violent turn?
It seems like only yesterday that Donald James Woods, 35, of Athens, Ont. was murdered – shot and left for dead June 23 behind a Pickering store in the tractor-trailer he had been hauling. His load – $40,000 worth of air-chilled chicken – had disappeared and had cost him his life.
Since then, according to investigators, there have been at least four or five violent confrontations involving truck drivers in southern Ontario.
This past summer alone saw attacks on three drivers in southern Ontario, the most recent in early August, when a driver hauling $2 million in computer parts was hijacked from a service station in Tilbury at gunpoint, bound and discovered the next day by a passerby in the cab of his truck in Milton, his trailer gone.
On July 25, in Vaughan, three bandits shot a truck driver in the ankle while hijacking his tobacco cargo.
And in mid-July thieves left a driver bound and gagged and locked in a car in a carpool lot along the 401 near Guelph, after taking both his tractor and trailer, loaded with $2 million worth of nickel metal. The tractor was later recovered in Simcoe. The empty trailer was recovered in Aylmer. Clearly, shippers and the companies who haul for them aren’t the only victims when it comes to cargo theft.
But do carriers and the drivers they employ really take the precautions they should when it comes to protecting not only their companies’ assets, but their own safety?
Many drivers (and their carriers) feel sheer physical size of the driver is a deterrent, but they have it wrong, according to Detective Constable Chris Reid, formerly an investigator with the York Regional Police cargo theft unit, and now with the department’s homicide unit.
A veteran of the cargo theft unit (he participated in his first sting operation in 2001), Reid still makes presentations about cargo theft to carrier and road safety groups.
“Public/driver safety should always be at the top of your list of concerns,” Reid tells audience members. “If McDonald’s can be sued because someone spills coffee on themselves, if the police can be sued because the person they pursue kills someone, does it not follow that a trucking company can be sued when their stolen truck and trailer is involved in a fatality or truckjacking/driver murder like the murder of Donny Woods in Durham? These are all things to consider when determining just how necessary security measures are.”
Never mind that any increase in cargo theft, such as the one that seems to be going on of late, would necessarily increase the physical risk to drivers themselves.
As for targeting, Reid offers a sample of loads stolen recently in the GTA. It includes: power tools, car tires, furniture, appliances, bathtubs, barbecues, fishing rods and reels, computers, photocopiers, TVs, DVDs, french fries, chicken wings, shrimp, turkeys, gum, diapers, facial tissue, toilet paper, soap, lunch bags, lumber, scrap metal, cement dye, paint, nickel pellets, Ultra Slim Fast, Gatorade, cigarettes, booze and pharmaceuticals. French fries?!
“Thieves will take just about anything,” says Reid, adding sometimes cargo is stolen ‘to order’ because bandits already know exactly what is in the trailers, even though the trailers themselves may be unmarked. “Thieves will sometimes go to shipping yards and randomly check trucks to see what is on them. They may remove a sample of the product from the truck prior to the theft of the entire truck and try to broker a deal for the entire load.”
Deals are usually brokered for about 30-40 cents on the dollar value of the product, but prices could vary according to demand, says Reid. The subsequent theft could occur when the trailer is still inside the yard, with the use of the attached tractor or a stolen one.
Reid shows a police surveillance video of a well-lit but unsecured and unsupervised lot. The “bad guys” are shown circling a white truck – they are wearing orange traffic vests – a passerby would think they were workers. They soon leave the white truck and move on to a red one. Two minutes later they drive off. The same truck was later used to steal a load of turkeys.
“It was two weeks before Christmas,” comments Reid. “It was a good load to steal.”
It could have been worse. A driver could have been hauling the load of turkeys when they were stolen and ended up dead, like Woods.
For cargo security experts like Reid, as well as insurers and trucking associations, the safety of both cargo and drivers begins in the yard.
Yards should be secured by tall, cantilevered gates, using entry and exit codes. There should be fence alarms and high-quality digital surveillance cameras. There should be security guards onsite 24/7. Access should be limited to employees. A site controller should be responsible for releasing any and all loads to drivers. And ID should be required from all drivers entering or exiting the site.
“Cantilever gates are hard to drive through,” explains Reid. If a truck smashes through it, the main part of the gate will cause significant damage to the truck; which will draw police attention. The pole extensions will drop down on the cab causing further damage, likely smashing the windows and possibly injuring the driver. Thieves won’t want to take that kind of risk.”
Separate entry and exit codes are also essential, explains Reid: “Most yards use entry codes only, with motion sensors to automatically open the gate when the truck exits the yard. This allows thieves to walk into the yard, cut a hole through the fence and steal a truck and trailer and just drive out.”
Locks on the trailer are a no-brainer, but according to Reid, not all locks are created equal.
“The gladhand lock is relatively inexpensive ($30 to $50),” Reid says. “To remove it, a thief risks damaging the rubber seals or the gladhand itself, making the brakes inoperable or resulting in a breakdown a few kilometres down the road.”
Other security devices, such as kingpin locks, have their problems. While kingpin locks, also known as fifth wheel locks, are extremely strong, thieves can use gear pullers to rip them off without causing damage. Gear pullers work, says Reid, and they are cheap ($35) as well as re-usable.
As for advertising your wares, it’s obviously better not to haul a trailer with brand name insignias on the sides, says the detective-constable.
“Using trailers as rolling billboards is not uncommon,” he says. “Big retailers typically advertise on their trailers. This, however, tells the thieves that, if full, the trailers will very likely have contents that they can easily find a buyer for. Not only do the trailers become a high risk target – so do the drivers. We have had truckjackings where the thieves targeted a moving trailer because of this advertising. In one case, the trucker was beaten and kidnapped – he suffered permanent nerve injuries to parts of his face.”
Reid adds it’s also better not to notify drivers (especially new ones) or warehouse employees ahead of time of exactly what or where they will be hauling, as “one bad driver is all you need to lose a load.”
Another common and equally dangerous practice is to store bills of lading in the storage container of loaded trailers – usually located on the outside nose of the trailer. Surveillance cameras have shown cargo thieves entering yards and taking these bills, which they then use when pre-selling to potential buyers.
Once the load is on the road, much depends on the good judgmen
t of drivers, says Reid. But companies can still increase security by insisting on the following:
* Drivers should use company cell phones only. (A certain number of personal calls should be allowed.) “Drivers should check in regularly with their companies. And use of company cells will allow investigators to track calls if they believe the driver may have communicated with the thieves. And if the spouse/family doesn’t hear from the driver on schedule, they should call the driver. If there’s no answer they should call the company to advise them.”
* Pre-determine routes and stop locations. “If a load isn’t delivered on time and the driver can’t be reached the route can be checked,” explains Reid, adding safe stops should be identified. “Ensure only busy truck stops are used. And GPS will allow you to see if your driver/load is off route.”
* Drivers must not park or leave their trailers in a desolate area. “Parking near a closed yard in a desolate area at 3 a.m. is not safe,” says Reid. “Drivers who do this are sitting ducks and at risk for truckjackings.”
* High value/risk loads should have a car assigned to escort the load. “The car and truck drivers should remain separate so it isn’t obvious they are together. That way the car can watch out for potential problems, like thieves casing the truck,” says Reid. Still, drivers themselves need to remain vigilant, says Reid, who offers the following tips:
* Keep doors locked whether you’re moving or stationary.
* Maintain a buddy system when stopping at truck stops and try to ride in pairs for common parts of your routes.
* Be aware of cars following your truck or those being driven by others. If you think you’re being followed, take an exit ramp and see if you’re followed off the highway, then pull back on immediately. Be sure not to take an exit ramp in an isolated area – a busy service station exit is best. And if you notice another truck being followed, try to alert the trucker on the CB. In either case, if you believe someone is following you, alert the police.
* Most importantly, truck drivers should never, ever tell a stranger what they’re hauling or where they’re going. “The less other people know the better,” says Reid.
It may be no secret that cargo theft is a growing reality for Canadian carriers and drivers, but taking the precautions outlined above should significantly lower the risk to loads and drivers.