Teaming Up For Security

The trucking industry and law enforcement combine forces to battle theft and terrorism.

July 2006, - Feature

by Deborah Lockridge, Senior Editor

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Whether it's recovering a load of stolen perfume or pushing for laws increasing cargo theft penalties, national and regional cargo theft security councils and task forces enable industry and law enforcement to work together to improve security.

On the national level, the American Trucking Associations in May announced it had formed a new Security Council. ATA's security focus had been housed within its Safety and Loss Prevention Management Council since ATA's restructuring seven years ago.

Merging the security and safety/loss prevention activities made sense in theory, says Susan Chandler, executive director of both councils, "but at the end of the day, they're very different people doing very different things. What we found was, the security professionals weren't identifying with the group, so they were seeking out other organizations – and we need everyone involved."

The announcement of the new Security Council said the move reflects "the heightened importance of trucking industry security in a post-9/11 atmosphere."

Even though we're coming up on the five-year anniversary of 9/11, Chandler explains that the government is only now ramping up its trucking-related security efforts.

"Particularly this last year, it's become a real focus legislatively and regulatorily," she says. "We get more calls from reporters on cargo theft; just the level of activity has leaped in the last year. And because of that, the industry really felt like it needed a singular voice."

Many government groups are coming out with security guidelines, Chandler notes. "We'll be working with those agencies to come up with real solutions and real security plans that aren't cookie-cutter, but address our diverse industry needs."

For instance, the Transportation Security Administration is rolling out its Transportation Worker Identification Credential system. ATA is asking the TSA to implement a single, coordinated, cost-effective process for screening transportation workers. TSA has implemented different background check processes for truckers obtaining hazmat endorsements and going to secure airport areas. And now it's implementing TWIC for truckers transporting cargo in and out of seaports.

In addition to working with the government and being a voice for reporters, the Security Council will keep members informed, not just about regulatory and legislative issues, but also on such issues as trends in cargo theft, new technologies, and the experiences of members on what's working and what's not. An annual meeting in Las Vegas in September will overlap with that of the Safety and Loss Prevention Management Council.

Another group functioning at the national level is the International Cargo Security Council. This is a broader group, including not only trucking members, but also law enforcement, shippers, and suppliers of security-related products and services.

ICSC has "created a non-biased, non-competitive environment of information sharing across industry and law enforcement, specifically to address cargo security," says member Mike Hammons, CEO of Argo Tracker, which makes a cargo tracking device. This approach, he says, creates an environment where security problems can be identified and solutions can be devised by the collaboration of the different types of members.

"There's never been a time in history when there's been more cargo, more inventory, more value [being transported] in trucks, in trailers, in containers," Hammons says, which makes cargo theft a more attractive crime than ever.

In addition to national groups, there are a number of regional security councils. Con-Way Freight has been active in this area, and in fact helped found some of these regional groups.

"Some 10 to 15 years ago, we didn't have a lot of communications between government, law enforcement and security professionals in our sectors," says Curtis Shewchuk, director and chief security officer, corporate protective services for Con-Way Freight. Shewchuk is chairman of the Mid-Atlantic Transportation Security Council and first vice chairman of ATA's new Security Council.

Some of these regional councils were formed in reaction to large-scale cargo theft in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic regions where organized crime was involved. In talking to others concerned about the problem, Shewchuk says, it became evident that there was a need for shared resources and shared information between industry and law enforcement.

"Defining security councils as a form to accomplish this turned out to be very successful. Since the original inception, we've also realized they provide a forum for information sharing with homeland security initiatives."

One of the oldest regional groups is the Western States Cargo Theft Association, founded about 25 years ago in response to Southern California's high prevalence of cargo theft. It includes members from some of the largest trucking companies in the country, as well as shipping companies, freight forwarders, package delivery services, local law enforcement and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, says President Ron Gibbons.

Meetings of the group address issues such as cargo theft trends and locations that are seeing high amounts of cargo theft.

"The benefit of belonging to a regional group would be contacts and the exchange of information," Gibbons says. "Someone in the private sector would get to meet people in law enforcement that specialize in vehicle and cargo theft."

Often working closely with these security councils are law enforcement task forces. Two of the most well known are the Los Angeles-based Cargo CATs and Miami-based TOMCATS.

In 1990, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department started a new cargo theft investigative unit named Cargo CATs, the Cargo Criminal Apprehension Team. Initially, it was a multi-agency task force, but after a two-year hiatus between 2000 and 2002 due to lack of funding, it was re-established strictly as a function of the Sheriff's Department. It does work hand in hand with other regional task forces and cargo theft units throughout the U.S. as well as with federal agencies, and communicates with cargo security groups such as the ICSC and the Western States Cargo Theft Association.

Since Cargo CATs began, it has recovered more than $213.5 million in stolen property and made at least 1,275 arrests. It does this in part by working closely with the cargo, transportation, warehousing and insurance industries. It also acts as a resource for cargo theft prevention information.

"In one case last year, we recovered about $2.5 million worth of product that was stolen off of five different loads," says Steve Blagg, a detective with the task force. "We made three arrests and got convictions on all three."

A cargo theft task force such as Cargo CATs is effective, Blagg explains, because the officers are able to develop an expertise and an informant base. "This type of crime is very informant-driven," he says. "When a truck and a loaded trailer is stolen, the first thing we do is put out word to our people on the street to keep an eye open." Developing an expertise in cargo theft involves such things as knowing the most likely places to look for stolen rigs and loads.

On the other side of the country, TOMCATS, the Tactical Operations Multi-Agency Cargo Anti Theft Squad, operates in the Miami-Dade County area and is made up of local, state and federal law enforcement agencies. It recovers approximately $30 million in stolen property each year.

TOMCATS also works with the statewide Florida Commercial Vehicle and Cargo Theft Task Force, in operation since 2001. This group focuses on the theft of commercial vehicles and cargo through a multi-agency approach, including the Florida Office of Motor Carrier Compliance.

For instance, recently a load of perfume valued at $1 million was stolen from a Florida truckstop. While the local Sheriff's Office investigator was en route to the scene, he contacted a Motor Carrier Compliance officer who he knew was working a major highway to the south of the theft location. The MCCO officer realized he had just passed the stolen truck and was able to stop the truck, apprehend the suspect and recover the load.

The FCVCTTF organizes statewide tactical operations on a frequent basis to not only detect and apprehend those who would commit cargo crimes, but to deter those criminals from committing those crimes. The task force also sponsors an annual Legislative Cargo Security Summit, attended by more than 175 people representing more than 20 states. This summit has resulted in Florida laws increasing penalties for cargo theft.

MCCO also has helped to develop a web-based system allowing law enforcement and industry members to report incidents of theft via the web. This information is transmitted to law enforcement agencies, patrol vehicle laptop computers, weigh stations and agricultural inspection stations throughout the state.

There are several ways carriers can help law enforcement, says Cargo CATs' Blagg:

• Invest in a tracking system that is not easily found by criminals.

• Report thefts as soon as possible to law enforcement – don't wait for the insurance adjuster to do it.

• Be ready to give law enforcement as much information as possible about both the equipment and the cargo.

• Report suspicious activity to law enforcement, such as someone who appears to be casing the yard or is asking suspicious questions.

• Try to develop a good rapport with cargo theft investigators in your area. One way to accomplish this is by joining a regional cargo theft security council.

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