This industry is in the throes of a national epidemic in the form of an increase in the incidence of stolen or hijacked trucks and trailers. And before anyone sluffs this off as simply an inconvenienc...
This industry is in the throes of a national epidemic in the form of an increase in the incidence of stolen or hijacked trucks and trailers. And before anyone sluffs this off as simply an inconvenience, or an issue for the insurance companies, let me pass on how one expert views the issue: “Trucking may be the most at-risk industry when it comes to infiltration by criminal groups and the illegal use of transportation equipment,” says Sgt. Rob Ruiters, national program coordinator of the RCMP’s Pipeline/Convoy Program.
Constable Paul Webb of the Niagara Regional Police spoke on this very issue during our annual conference in 2008 and his presentation opened a lot of otherwise complacent eyes.
The risk Ruiters is talking about can be viewed on two levels. First, there is the temporary or permanent loss of the stolen equipment, the resulting increase in insurance premiums or financial burden on the self-insured, and the inconvenience to the customer; but that is really just the beginning.
“Almost anyone can get a Class 1 licence and the lack of sufficient background checks in the hiring process of many carriers can put the entire industry at risk.”
On another level stolen or hijacked vehicles often become tools in the hands of organized crime, where they are used for smuggling people or illicit products across borders, domestic or international, or for transporting stolen merchandise to willing buyers.
That lack of reporting leads to another problem Ruiters explains. “When a carrier is victimized it is essential to report the incident to the police. Without those reports there is no way to accumulate accurate data that will lead to a proper assessment of the magnitude of the problem. And without those statistics it is difficult to generate the political will to direct the required resources to the problem.”
Most of us think of cargo or equipment theft in a rather colloquial manner -ie. how does this affect me? We don’t think beyond the inconvenience, or the upset customer or the filling out of reports because we don’t see or are not aware of the bigger picture that Ruiters talks about. Consequently these thefts often go unreported, with companies preferring to self-insure to ever higher levels just to be able to maintain fleet insurance at a ‘reasonable’ cost, or because they simply want to avoid publicity.
Every day the PMTC office receives reports of stolen equipment that is used for transporting contraband somewhere in North America. The extent of this activity is alarming, and in truth, somewhat amazing.
Ruiters suggests that organized crime is behind many of the thefts. “They (organized crime) operate like a business, evaluating the risks versus the rewards, and in transporting contraband domestically or even across the US border the risks of being caught are minimal.”
That is directly attributable to the volume of trucks crossing the international border where only a small percentage can be fully inspected, and the ease with which a truck can travel across Canadian jurisdictions if it appears to be operating legally.
Asked what types of products are most vulnerable to theft, Ruiters replied: “If there is money to be made the cargo is at risk, and there is a buyer for almost everything.”
But again, cargo theft is only one aspect of the problem, as organized crime often wants the equipment for its own illicit purposes. Add the potential for a security concern if stolen equipment was to be used to deliver an explosive and anyone can see the need for vigilance.
In a recent survey of PMTC members a number reported on both equipment and cargo theft. Several also responded with steps that they have taken to try to minimize their exposure to the criminal element. Among the common preventive measures in use are fenced yards, locked equipment, tracking devices, and simply encouraging drivers to be vigilant and report when they see something that seems out of place.
But perhaps the most important preventive measure any carrier can take is conducting thorough background checks on all potential employees. As Ruiters points out, almost anyone can get a Class 1 licence and that includes those with a criminal record. At least until the recession hit almost anyone could also parlay that licence in to a job driving a truck. Connecting the dots isn’t that difficult.
Every position in a carrier’s operation is subject to being influenced by criminal groups. It is up to employers to do everything possible to ensure that the individuals hired are trustworthy, and that begins with the background check.
Individually, these preventive measures provide some deterrent but Ruiters believes that a more concentrated effort by law enforcement is required and that fleets must cooperate fully if results are to be achieved. Industry needs to be better engaged in best practices, needs to empower its people to report unusual activity in the yard or on the road, and as mentioned above, those that have been victimized need to report to the police. We’ve all got a part to play in defending ourselves and others in the industry from the criminal element. Are you doing everything you can to help?
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