On Twitter this month, we asked: What was the most notorious theft of 2015? Renowned cargo theft expert J.J. Coughlin, author of “Cargo Crime”, VP at LoJack SCI and chairman of the Southwest Transportation Security Council, responded without hesitation: the LTL terminal theft spree in East Texas and surrounding states.
Wait, what? Unpublished in the news, a spree of LTL thefts that started 10 months ago in the east region of Texas that has now expanded: there are also victimized terminals in four southeastern states. While details vary, each target has generally included:
- LTL terminals in smaller cities in Texas and 4 southeastern states
- Locations in proximity to other LTL terminals
- A local box truck that is usually stolen the day before the theft
- Crimes that occur over the weekend, when the terminals have only sporadic activity
- Thieves carrying bolt cutters, saws and grinders to defeat company security measures, including high-value locks.
The thieves have been captured on CCTV footage: video even shows the perpetrators hiding while a company line‐haul unit arrives. The two most recent incidents included multiple carriers in Springfield, MO; Corpus Christi and Victoria, Texas.
With a mantra of “Stop Theft Before It Happens,” we decided to catch up with J.J. for more details.
The Gang’s M.O.
“Bear in mind, as this is an ongoing investigation, there are a number of details I can’t comment on,” J.J. warns. “What I can tell you is that over the last 10 months, a number of Nationwide Less‐than‐Truckload (LTL) Carriers have been victims of multiple trailer burglaries/thefts across the U.S., with losses exceeding millions of dollars. We have multiple reasons to believe this is all the work of the same crime ring.”
So what happens when these thefts occur?
“They prep the day before the theft by stealing a local box truck, which they use to haul away whatever they steal. The next night they head to their target.
How do they compromise security at the terminal?
The terminals are located in smaller cities with lower crime rates. So on most occasions, the LTL has not really been protecting these terminals as you would terminals in larger cities. So the thieves usually have a pretty simple target.
Most of these LTLs have chain link fences and they are probably locked. They cut those. Some have CCTV; some have enough security where an alarm went off and the police responded. But most of them don’t have alarms for the perimeter of their facility; only for their building. So as long as the thieves don’t touch the building, and just focus on the trailers in the yard, they can break into those all night long and no one will notice. That’s what this group does.
Moreover, these LTLs frequently use facilities in proximity to other LTLs, so they break into 2 or 3 LTLs at the same time.”
All on the same night? How many thieves are we talking about?
“Yes, all on the same night. They’re not there for a few minutes. They break in and go shopping. They may open 10 trailers, looking for whatever freight they can sell. They are not rushed because it is the weekend, nobody is there, and the area is industrial, sparsely populated, so they take their time and get what they want.
We estimate there are 3-5 guys perpetrating the thefts. They are very quick and methodical, only targeting high-value items that can easily be sold on the black market. In several of the cases, they’ve used on-site company tractors to stage trailers to block the road view from law enforcement.”
So there’s nothing particularly clever about their break-in methods, then?
“I would not say they’re clever; their methods are pretty much the same: how they cut the fence, how they break into the trailers—those kinds of things.”
What about the CCTV footage? Can’t they be identified already? Are any of the pictures any good?
“The pictures are varying degrees; some are decent, some are not. Not enough to get a facial recognition shot of anybody. They are going to have to use the old-fashioned detective work to track and identify who they [the thieves] are, based on the physical evidence. Cameras alone are only as good as the evidence they provide.”
The goods this gang has stolen are said to include tobacco, firearms, over-the-counter medication and electronics. Anything else?
“Anything from vacuum cleaners to shoes. There has been tons of stuff stolen and it’s all being sold by professional fences.”
So these thieves target a group of low-security LTLs. Why LTLs? How do they know so much about them that they can target them so effectively?
It has been suggested that at least one member of the gang has experience in the LTL industry. It wouldn’t surprise me. It is not an inside job, given the volume of thefts and their locations, but their method of operation suggests some industry knowledge.
J.J. pauses before saying with a sigh, “This is probably going to drive the LTL industry to protect themselves down to a layer they haven’t before.” I know several of the companies are installing Electric Guard Dog at these terminals where they had not done so before.”
So what should affected LTLs DO to protect themselves? Stay tuned for Part II of Filching Freight to get renowned security expert J.J. Coughlin’s ideas to protect your LTL terminal.
If you have an LTL terminal in the affected area and know you need more security, contact an Electric Guard Dog representative for a free site security evaluation.
J.J. Coughlin has been the VP, Law Enforcement Services & Logistics Accounts for LoJack SCI since 2007, after spending more than a decade as a regional security manager in the transportation industry and two decades as a detective sergeant for the Dallas Police Department. He is chairman of the Southwest Transportation Security Council and the author of “Cargo Crime: Security and Theft Prevention.”
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