Los Angeles railroad theft rings are taken down, police say

Two theft rings that raked in more than $18 million worth of goods stolen from railroad cars have been taken down, authorities said Thursday, months after images of a sea of ​​discarded containers along the Union Pacific tracks in Lincoln Heights drew national attention had.

In the months-long operation to curb train theft across Los Angeles County, a task force has made more than 700 arrests and recovered millions of dollars in stolen goods, including designer handbags, power tools and a pair of empty coffins, authorities said.

“It required a series of its own, and it also required police resources outside of the LAPD, the California Highway Patrol, the Sheriff’s Department and law enforcement,” Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore said at an afternoon news conference. “People’s willingness to buy something at a discount and search for it fuels recipients’ greed to find people who are going out and burgling.”

Although the Los Angeles Police Department had previously investigated the train theft, the task force was formed in January in response to “the relentless assault and the continued loss and spread of debris and the dangers posed by this continued threat,” Moore said .

Some of the thefts were the work of opportunists working alone, but authorities said they identified two organized fencing rings. Two dozen members of those rings were arrested, about half of whom were charged with crimes including burglary and theft of property, authorities said. Their operations extended as far as Texas; Authorities said they also traced some of the stolen goods back to Mexico.

The rise of e-commerce and Southern California’s role as a hub for the movement of goods drew thieves looking for a target, Moore said. Other observers see the rise in such thefts as emblematic of the desperation that has gripped parts of the country since the outbreak of the pandemic, costing millions of people their jobs.

The thefts also raised concerns about vulnerabilities in a key element of the supply chain.

Of particular concern was the theft of firearms, authorities said, including more than 40 handguns and rifles from a train bound for Tennessee that were not spotted until the train reached its destination.

In a letter to LA County Dist. atty George Gascón in December reported to Union Pacific that thefts on their trains in Los Angeles County were up 160% from a year earlier, with a particularly sharp increase leading up to the peak holiday season. The railroad company has argued that the theft problem was exacerbated by Gascón’s approach to prosecuting criminals.

“The charge will be reduced to a misdemeanor or minor offense and the criminal will be released after paying a small fine,” Adrian Guerrero, Union Pacific’s director of public affairs, said in the letter.

In response, Gascón chided Union Pacific for poor security and said his office was filing charges against the suspects.

Moore echoed that sentiment Thursday, saying the prosecutor’s position on such cases had “evolved.”

The prevalence of train theft is unclear, as national data on such crimes is patchy at best.

Union Pacific and other railroad companies operate their own private police forces and often work with law enforcement agencies. Rail operators have taken steps in recent months to increase ongoing security measures around rail lines, including additional security, installing lighting and using more secure locks to deter would-be thieves.

Jordan Lippel, ECamSecure’s vice president of sales, said the Long Beach security firm has worked with Union Pacific to improve surveillance of its properties with artificial intelligence-enhanced surveillance.

“The artificial intelligence is set up to recognize people and vehicles in restricted areas, and once those restricted areas have been created by an invisible geofence, they alert our Long Beach command center where our specialized agents are able to take appropriate action in real time action,” he said.

Atty of the City of Los Angeles. Mike Feuer said the task force, which swelled to about 40 police departments, underscored the importance of law enforcement working together.

“It reminds us all that for any major issue in our area, whether it’s a criminal issue or a quality of life or housing issue, we usually have to bring multiple agencies together,” he said.

Times contributors Rachel Uranga and Richard Winton contributed to this report.

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-11-17/los-angeles-railroad-theft-rings-taken-down-police-say Los Angeles railroad theft rings are taken down, police say

Alley Einstein

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