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Vanishing Act

MONTREAL, Que - What does a thief do with a trailerload of metal, tires, toys, shrimps, Skidoos or smokes? In Montreal, where cargo thefts peaked at 358 in 2002, criminal are well organized and the industry plays right into their hands with reacti...


DISAPPEARING ACT: Don't let your most valuable assets vanish into thin air. Prevention begins at the terminal.
DISAPPEARING ACT: Don't let your most valuable assets vanish into thin air. Prevention begins at the terminal.

MONTREAL, Que – What does a thief do with a trailerload of metal, tires, toys, shrimps, Skidoos or smokes? In Montreal, where cargo thefts peaked at 358 in 2002, criminal are well organized and the industry plays right into their hands with reactive measures, passivity and buck-passing.

One of the biggest problems is who should pay the bill for prevention. When a carrier picks up a load of goods from a manufacturer, the load becomes the carrier’s responsibility. The carrier figures if the load gets lifted, the insurance company will pay. Everyone figures the police should be in the picture somewhere – monitoring, chasing, arresting…

Daniel Oaks, a security expert and co-owner of Groupe Central, has seen it all, from poor communication between police agencies, to a “let the insurance companies pay” attitude among carriers, to cargo left unguarded at cross-docks in the middle of the night, and carriers sending cargo straight into the hands of thieves.

“I had information that a trailer of tires was going to be a stolen. I told the Montreal company not to ship the trailer because it was too difficult to get the Ontario Provincial Police to stop the theft. The company didn’t listen and the load was stolen,” says Oaks. “If you know something is going to happen, stop everything.”

Carriers can be extremely lousy at prevention, even when the measures are free, according to Oaks. “I could change policies and procedures that would cost nothing. You could, say, lock a door so drivers can’t go into the back room (of a carrier’s office and learn about shipments),” he says.

Some carriers are easily fooled. For example, a thief will send a fax telling a carrier that load X is being picked up two hours early. The thief comes in and drives off with the trailer. Or a gypsy driver, employed by a carrier unaware of his lousy credentials, shows up at a manufacturer’s door and waltzes off with a load.

Oaks is the security director for Seagrams, and he has a list of drivers with long criminal records known to police. He tells carriers which drivers he does not want to see at their door.

Some carriers spend huge sums on security, but sometimes getting money to nail a thief is just impossible. Oaks tells of an insurance adjuster who could not get his insurance company to cough up some reward money. Yet the same company regularly spends $5,000 to $20,000 for investigative services. “But if you offer $10,000 someone would come forward,” says Oaks.

The Montreal Police Services has more resources to combat cargo theft than it did two years ago. “We are getting better and getting more information,” says sergeant detective Daniel Picard of the Montreal Police Services Organized Crime Division. “You will see a tendency for the rate to go down on the Island, but it is going up (off) the Island.”

Picard says the clear rate for cargo theft is 15 to 20 per cent. “This is a good rate,” he says, considering that the thieves have the upper hand. They can bankroll equipment like night vision goggles, scanners, cell phones, cameras … “They are five years ahead of us in equipment,” says Picard.

Yet Picard’s teams have very good days, like when they got a tip a couple of months ago that a guy was dealing a truckload of stolen Unibroue beer, sent in a double agent for the “buy,” recovered every single bottle in Granby and arrested four guys, all within three days of the theft.

A bit earlier they traced a load of hot Skidoos to a Laval warehouse. As a bonus they found six other loads of hot goods, worth $1.5 million and a hydroponic grow-op in a buried cargo container. “In 2002 we were missing a lot of containers. We didn’t know why, but we know now. A guy said ‘We grow pot in ’em’. We found out that it is really true,” says Picard.

Prevention, like charity, begins at home. Spend a thousand dollars on a GPS unit. Oaks’ company will install it and move it from truck to truck when a valuable load is going out.

Advertise that you have a security system. Call Oaks or the Organized Crime Unit for information on how to protect yourself. “We talk with transport companies all the time,” says Picard.

Basic steps can be taken for the price of some initiative – carriers should agitate for security seminars from the Quebec Trucking Association, which currently offers no such courses, or maybe organize some among themselves. Raise the issue with the Canadian Industrial Transport Association. “I always tell them we aren’t doing enough for theft prevention and awareness,” says Oaks. Picard adds, “If you have information, call us. The faster we know, the better the chance of finding the thief.”


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