A spike in cargo thefts from Union Pacific trains in Los Angeles County, California, has intensified actions to address the serious situation.
The thefts involve criminals trespassing on Union Pacific property, climbing aboard trains and breaking into customers’ containers loaded with cargo, packages and merchandise destined to warehouse facilities around the country.
Union Pacific has 1,600 employees covering 275 miles of track at its nine rail facilities throughout Los Angeles County. The railroad mobilized an aggressive response, increasing the number of police assigned to protecting the targeted areas in Los Angeles County, as well as leveraging technology, such as drone surveillance, specialized fencing and trespass-detection systems.
Union Pacific agents have made hundreds of arrests, but less than half are booked and some are released in less than 24 hours.
In addition to Union Pacific efforts, partnership with local and state law enforcement and elected public officials is essential. Over the past year, rail thefts have increased by 160% in Los Angeles County and have spiked in the past three months during the holiday peak season. In October 2021 alone, thefts from Union Pacific trains increased 356% compared to October 2020.
Thefts over the past two weeks left Union Pacific rail property littered with debris, as reported by numerous media outlets.
Union Pacific underscored concerns in a letter sent to Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón, on Dec. 20, 2021. It asked for help ensuring there are consequences for those who prevent the railroad from safely moving customer goods.
“Criminals are caught and arrested, turned over to local authorities for booking, arraigned before the local courts, charges are reduced to a misdemeanor or petty offense, and the criminal is released after paying a nominal fine,” said the letter. “These individuals are generally caught and released back onto the streets in less than 24 hours. Even with all the arrests made, the no-cash bail policy and extended timeframe for suspects to appear in court is causing re-victimization to Union Pacific by these same criminals.”
The letter goes on to say criminals are boasting to Union Pacific officers that charges will be pled down to simple trespassing – which bears no serious consequence.
The letter urged the District Attorney to reconsider the policy applied to these cases: “While we understand the well-intended social justice goals of the policy, we need our justice system to support our partnership efforts with local law enforcement, hold these criminals accountable, and most important, help protect our employees and the critical local and national rail network.”
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In the meantime, Union Pacific continues its partnership and engagement with elected leaders and government agencies, including the office of California Gov. Gavin Newsom in an effort to spur needed action to curb the criminal activity. It is only through a coordinated effort with local law enforcement agencies and the court system that the situation can get under control.
The Los Angeles District Attorney agreed. “Our office is committed to working with law enforcement to ensure collective safety across Los Angeles County’s sprawling infrastructure, whether it’s at our ports or on railroad tracks,” the DA said in a public statement. “Our office takes Union Pacific’s concerns seriously and hopes to discuss this issue more in the coming weeks.” Union Pacific is hopeful and eager to begin that productive dialogue to implement short and long-term solutions.