Los Angeles

Who's to Blame? LA DA Gascón Fires Back, Saying Union Pacific Doesn't Protect Its Cargo

NBCLA has been reporting on cargo theft for months.

Irfan Khan | Los Angeles Times | Getty Images

A day after Gov. Gavin Newsom toured a stretch of Union Pacific rail tracks in Los Angeles littered with the remains of looted packages, L.A. County District Attorney George Gascón said the railroad doesn't do enough to ensure its trains are adequately locked and protected.

In a letter to UP General Director of Public Affairs Adrian Guerrero, the district attorney said that the Los Angeles Police Department has determined that "UP does little to secure or lock trains and has significantly decreased law enforcement staffing.

It is very telling that other major railroad operations in the area are not facing the same level of theft at their facilities as UP.''

More people are ordering more than ever online. California is the top targeted state where cargo is stolen, and it's not random -- it's organized. John Cadiz Klemack reports Jan. 19, 2022.

Guerrero wrote to the DA's office last month, suggesting that Gascón's decision to dismisses certain misdemeanors such as trespassing has resulted in a spike in railway container theft that cost UP an estimated $5 million.

According to UP statistics, train container theft increased by 160% from 2020 to 2021 in L.A. County, with more than 90 containers broken into every day on average.

Gascón said Friday that his office recently conducted a review of cases submitted for filing consideration over the last three years in which UP is listed as a victim and found that the number actually dropped in 2021.

Another video showed a thief taking a crowbar up to an employee on the tracks. John Cadiz Klemack reports Jan. 18, 2022.

In 2019, 78 cases were presented for filing; in 2020, 56 cases were presented for filing; and in a "sharp decline,'' 47 such cases involving UP were presented for filing consideration last year, Gascon wrote, with over half of those filed by the DA's office for prosecution.

The charges filed included both felony and misdemeanor offenses alleging burglary, theft, and receiving stolen property, the DA wrote.

"Of the 20 cases that were declined for filing, 10 were not filed due to the insufficiency of the evidence presented to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt, which is our ethical standard to file a criminal case,'' according to Gascón.

NBCLA found who the boxes were intended for, and showed the thieves armed with boltcutters targeting the trains to the sheriff. John Cadiz Klemack reports Nov. 22, 2021.

"The other 10 declined matters involved offenses such as allegations of unhoused individuals within 20 feet of the railroad tracks and simple possession of drugs for personal use -- not allegations of burglary, theft, or tampering. Although homelessness is a serious issue, it is not one that we can fix through expending resources of the criminal legal system.''

On Thursday, Newsom, saying that images of looted packages littering UP tracks in Los Angeles "look like a third-world country,'' announced a multi-agency push to clean up the mess, along with planned state efforts to combat the rampant theft that produced it.

Gov. Gavin Newsom picking up discarded boxes from cargo theft on Los Angeles tracks.

"What has happened on this stretch of the Union Pacific railroad is unacceptable,'' said Newsom. "We are committed to an all-of-government approach to prevent thefts, prosecute the criminals involved and clean up local communities.''

The governor said that, in the short term, Caltrans cleanup crews will assist Union Pacific workers over the next few days. Longer term, he said, the California Highway Patrol will continue its efforts to coordinate with local law enforcement to help prevent theft on railways in Los Angeles.

Last month, Newsom proposed his Real Public Safety Plan, which in part addresses the rail-theft issue.

The plan calls for bolstering local law enforcement response, supporting prosecutors and getting guns and drugs off the streets.

It also includes $255 million in grants for local law enforcement to increase their presence at retail locations and combat organized retail crime, along with $18 million to create a dedicated state team of special investigators and prosecutors to prosecute cross-jurisdictional theft-related crimes.

In addition, it would create a permanent Smash and Grab Enforcement Unit operated by CHP to work with local law enforcement to crack down on organized rail, retail and auto theft across the state.

Newsom said operations that fence stolen goods need to be another target of increased state and local efforts -- and that much of the stolen merchandise ends up on online platforms.

"A lot of this stuff ends up on platforms you've shopped on,'' he said. "You ever ask yourselves how anyone makes money at that remarkably discounted price?''

While Newsom said he wasn't focused on who's to blame for the rash in rail thefts, preferring to concentrate on solutions to prevent it from being repeated, some Republicans lambasted "criminals-first'' policies for exacerbating the problem.

"Criminals know how to exploit California's policies for their gain,'' Senate Republican Leader Scott Wilk of Santa Clarita said in a statement Thursday.

"Fancy press conferences by the governor are not going to discourage one single crime. Californians deserve safer communities, and Republicans look forward to fighting for every neighbor, retailer and employer who is fed up with the Democrats' `criminals-first' public safety agenda.''

A group of local Republican Congress members sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland calling for federal assistance in cracking down on thefts that have disrupted the supply chain.

"In addition, it is important to note that many of these purchases are not just delivered throughout the State of California, but also throughout the United States, affecting interstate and international commerce,'' the letter stated. "Therefore, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Justice play a vital role in federally prosecuting the epidemic of robberies on all freight transportation.''

Thieves are breaking into cargo containers along train lines. Angie Crouch reports for the NBC4 News on Monday, Nov. 1, 2021.

Copyright CNS - City News Service
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