MISSISSAUGA, Ont. — Cargo crime is estimated to be a $5-billion problem within the Canadian trucking industry. However, there are many small steps fleets can take to reduce the risk of being targeted by thieves, both at their facilities and while in-transit.
We caught up with Norm Sneyd, Bison Transport’s vice-president of business development, to discuss this topic in detail. He shares some insights into how carriers can protect themselves from cargo crime.
TN: Norm, cargo theft has been an issue for a long time, but it seems we hear more about it today than in past years. Is this because it’s become more prevalent or is it more a matter of the industry finally taking some action?
Sneyd: I think it’s a combination of both. There’s a lot of cargo theft going on today and there’s a renewed focus on dealing with it. I know that industry is working a lot closer now with law enforcement than they ever did. I think that’s important. As a carrier, our focus is on prevention. We do what we can to ensure that the cargo is protected at any given time and we’re not at risk.
However, when something goes amok, then we depend on law enforcement to work closely with us and try and get that cargo back. There are different organizations out there now that are working with us, CargoNet being one of them. We have a good relationship with them and they’re working with law enforcement to recover loads and making the industry aware of where there’s risk, where there’s been instances where trucks had been stolen.
Bison’s Norm Sneyd says preventing cargo crime comes down to awareness and vigilance at all times.
We need that information to allow us to be a little more proactive. At the end of the day, we depend on law enforcement to find the load if something goes missing. The other thing is, I don’t know if the courts are as stringent in dealing with these criminals once they’re caught.
There was a documentary probably four or five years ago and they actually interviewed somebody that had been hijacking loads and the comment that that individual made was, “There’s not a lot of risk here because the penalties aren’t severe.” The courts have to really take a hard stand on these guys and once they’re convicted, the penalties have to be more severe in my opinion.
TN: You mentioned that collaboration with law enforcement and their involvement is necessary. One of the things that we’ve heard is that in the past some carriers will not report stolen loads because they didn’t think there would be enough action taken. Why is that not the right approach to take?
Sneyd: If you don’t report it, you’re never going to have the chance of getting it back. The minute it happens, there is a chance that if you respond quickly enough that you could get the load back. Reporting it is a no-brainer. Report it immediately and get working on it as quickly as possible.
TN: One of the keys to preventing cargo theft is keeping the bad guys out. What do you do at your facilities to make sure that they’re not able to wander in and take off with one of your loaded trailers?
Sneyd: Well we’re very protective of our facilities. Our yards are monitored closely. There’s a fence, there’s cameras and we’ve got in many of them guards in a security hut. We have, in some cases, mobile units. We only want people that are authorized to be in the property. If you’re not authorized to be in the property then you’re not going to get in.
That goes for our own fleet. Our drivers are equipped with swipe cards. If the driver shows up and he doesn’t have his ID or his swipe card, he’s not getting in the facility. He’s being turned back to dispatch and we’ll deal with that matter at the dispatch level.
If you’re a third-party carrier coming to pick up a trailer, the guard hut is notified in advance so they know you’re coming. If you show up unannounced, you’re not getting in the yard. If you’re a visitor, you have to have a reason for being there.
A car will not be allowed on the property unless there has been earlier notification that he or she was going to show up at the facility. It’s got to be authorized by the right person at Bison. Getting on the property is very difficult and we want prior authorization for you to be there.
TN: In addition to all that, do you have tools or products that you use, once the cargo is within your facility to protect it? Things like kingpin locks or other technologies?
Sneyd: We don’t use pin locks within our own yards because once it’s there, that trailer is going to be protected. If it’s a loaded trailer it goes to a designated spot, it’s backed right up against a blocked wall. We want to make sure that the doors can’t be opened, but equally important is we cannot have that seal tampered with or breached in any way.
One of Bison’s priorities is ensuring only people qualified to be on its premises can get in.
Backing the unit right up against a solid object like a block wall that we use in our yards is the way to go, in our opinion. The loaded trailers are dropped close to the guard hut and they’re in view as a result to the security cameras that we have around the facility.
If we have shunters that are in the yard on a regular basis and they see a trailer that hasn’t been dropped properly, then they will hook on to it and push it back (against the wall). We have mobile units in a couple of our yards as well to patrol the yard to make sure there isn’t anything that should not be going on.
If they see a unit pulling in the middle of the night to drop a load, they make sure that it’s dropped in the right place. We really focus on that. We also focus on the people that are on site. If there’s somebody in between trailers and there’s no tractor around or the tractor is in front of the trailer and they seem to be hovering around, then security is alerted.
TN: It sounds like a lot of it comes down to awareness of your surroundings.
Sneyd: It is. One, you have to have a reason for being there. We don’t allow our drivers to park or sleep in many of our yards; we have designated areas for that in the terminal. Anybody that’s on site has to be there for a reason.
TN: You take all these measures and the cargo you’re protecting, in most cases, doesn’t even belong to you. How important is it to your customers that you’re going to these lengths to prevent theft?
Sneyd: Let me tell you, you’ll understand quickly how that ownership transfers to you as a carrier when that load goes missing. When a customer contracts with us to move their freight from A to B, one of the parameters is you get it there.
If you don’t get it there and it goes missing, then you own that load. Our goal is to pick the freight up on time, deliver it there on time and get it there in the same condition that it was picked up in. That includes getting the load there in tact.
A customer is not going to continue to use us if we’re not protecting their cargo or they feel that we’re not protecting their load at all times. If loads start to go missing while they’re in your care, then that customer is going to think twice about using you.
TN: What about the people you hire? A lot of cargo theft originates outside your facilities but in some cases it originates from inside. What do you do to ensure that you’re not hiring someone who could be contributing to the problem?
Sneyd: Well, we do all the background checks and searches that you can possibly do to make sure that the right driver gets into your system. We want all of our drivers to be FAST-eligible, so with that comes a number of checks and searches to ensure that there aren’t any issues. However, we also realize that the wrong person can get into the system and you’ve got to pay attention to that.
One of the things that we’ve done is, we’ve created a program called Neighbourhood Watch. We’ve gone to our fleet and all of our employees and we’ve asked them to stay focused when they’re in our yards and to report anything that might be suspicious. There’s a reward paid out if it leads to a conviction.
What it does is, it might put 2,500 pairs of eyes on our facilities at any given time. When a driver comes in, he’s looking around. We have a number of things that have been reported to us – suspicious behaviour – and we follow-up on that.
We hope that’s going to be a deterrent when somebody decides that they want to tamper with a load or a trailer or breach a seal or whatever, because you never know if the guy that’s beside you on the property is going to report you.
To me security is just awareness, it’s focus. I think that our fleet is very proud of our business and wants to protect it and will report things that they feel should be reported and could be suspicious and we follow up on all of them.
TN: Once your drivers are on the road, they become a little more vulnerable don’t they? You can’t keep everything within a fence or under watch. What do you do to make sure that drivers don’t get victimized when they’re out between here and wherever the load is destined for?
Sneyd: It’s that same awareness. When we go through the training and whatnot, we train our drivers to pay attention to their surroundings and where to stop and where to park and that sort of thing. You always park in a lit area. You should try and park your unit, if you’re grabbing something to eat, where it’s visible to you.
In some cases you can unhook your air lines while you stop, or cross them. That will prevent somebody who might break into your truck and go to pull away and they can’t move the unit. When you’re driving, pay attention to the vehicles that are behind you and if you feel that you’re being followed then there’s some maneuvers you can take.
Pull in to a rest area and don’t stop. If a vehicle follows you in and out, then you’re going to be concerned. That’s a situation that occurred a little while ago.
The driver did that, he felt he was being followed and tested it and alerted us to the situation. We called the authorities, they stopped the vehicle and it happened to have a couple of fellas with weapons in the vehicle. Those are the things you can do to protect yourself.
TN: Do the same rules apply whether it’s a load of diapers or a load of flatscreen TVs, or do you have different levels of vigilance depending on the nature of the cargo?
Sneyd: Listen, everything is marketable today and we don’t differentiate between the commodities because they’re all important to us. If we lose a load of diapers or a load of electronics, it means the same to us – that we’ve had a customer’s product go missing while in our control or in our care. Our focus is to make sure that every load that’s in our system is protected at all times.
TN: How does this vigilance benefit you as a company beyond keeping your customer satisfied? Do you see benefits in terms of insurance premiums and whatnot as well?
Sneyd: Absolutely. I mean, we’re talking millions and millions of dollars that are tied up in cargo theft within our industry. It’s a significant problem and at the end of the day, if you’re the ones that happen to be paying for these claims then there’s a substantial hit to your insurance and depending on your deductible, you might be paying for that whole shipment.
There is a significant amount of money spent on cargo theft. The other thing is we don’t want to put our employees at risk. Go back to that situation where the unit was being followed by these two guys in the car. We don’t know what we prevented by doing that, but it could’ve been a serious situation.
We don’t want any of our employees at risk at any time and if they can alert the authorities to something that might put them at risk, then that’s what we want to do.
TN: Lastly, with all the technology that’s available to you and the increased dialogue that we see today between law enforcement and carriers, how hopeful are you that cargo theft can be stamped out completely?
Sneyd: That’s not going to happen. I think we can reduce it considerably. We have a long way to go, but it can be reduced.
Will it be eliminated? No, because these thieves are innovative, they’re constantly looking at new ways to steal units, to steal shipments and we just have to be diligent in our preventative measures to make sure that we don’t put ourselves at risk and if something should happen hopefully law enforcement is going to kick in and we can get some of these loads or shipments back.
At the end of the day, I don’t believe we’ll ever eliminate it completely because we’re dealing with people that are bound and determined. They’re going to be successful and they’re taking different steps to work towards that goal. We’ve just got to try and stay a step ahead of them and do whatever we can to make it very difficult for them to excel at their trade.
James Menzies is editor of Truck News magazine. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 15 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies. All posts by James Menzies