Cargo train thefts spike in Los Angeles County

Yahoo Finance's Dani Romero reports on the theft of many consumer products from cargo freight trains in Los Angeles County.

Video transcript

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Unbelievable video of train tracks in Los Angeles littered with open packages as a result of thieves, stealing, and emptying containers filled with consumer goods. Looting everything from electronics to medication. With more on that, we're joined by Yahoo Finance's Dani Romero with the very latest. And it really does look like a scene out of a movie, Dani. What's being done to stop it?

DANI ROMERO: Alexis, you said it, I would describe it, it's like a scene out of the Wild West. But unlike Hollywood, these are props. These packages belong to people from all across the country. Thieves are breaking into cargo train containers and stealing thousands of dollars worth of merchandise that belong to top retailers-- Target, REI, Macy's. Our crew was out there, and we caught some video of several scavengers that are well-prepared. They're just picking through the sea of trash hoping to find some valuable goods that thieves left behind.

And also, another really scary scene while we were out there on Saturday was a train got derailed. And sources tell us that thieves are actually causing this derailment as a method to slow down the trains and allow them to hop on and rob inside these cargo containers. Union Pacific officials say that nobody on the train was hurt during the derailment. And the cause is still under investigation.

But if you talk about the debris field, it really stretches as far as I could see from the point that we were standing, at we're easily talking, tens and thousands of boxes, destroyed boxes, with addresses from Oregon to Pennsylvania. Union Pacific Railroad said it is trying to protect its cargo by increasing patrols as well as flying surveillance drones and working closely with law enforcement.

But according to the rail company, from October 2020 to 2021, there has been an increase of more than 350% in thefts. While I was out there, I found a box that was addressed to Oregon State Police. And it was being shipped out by a local company called BPS Tactical Inc. It's a law enforcement gear company. And I called them up, I sent them photos of their package, and here's what they had to say.

SARAH BLANKENSHIP: It's really frustrating. And it's so-- these criminals are just taking over. And they just, I mean, whiffed the box open and take what they want. And there's just-- I feel like we need to have consequences for stuff like this. It just makes me mad that something that, you know, we made that costs money and people work hard to make. And this trooper is not getting his equipment that he needs because somebody helped themselves to something that they shouldn't be taking.

DANI ROMERO: You can hear it right there the frustration that this is causing for businesses as well as consumers. The vice president of BPS Tactical told me, they were shipping out an exterior vest that goes over the bulletproof vests of this Oregon State trooper. She said that it's worth about over $500. But she said that this has never happened to them before. And now, knowing what she knows now, seeing those photos of her package, she says, it really won't change much in regards to the shipping method. But luckily, all of the products, all of their products were insured. Alexis.

KARINA MITCHELL: You really feel for that woman. You really hear the frustration in her voice as you said. And I wonder, what is the solution here? What is Union Pacific doing? And what are authorities doing? Because some of the people arrested are just being let out in 24 hours.

DANI ROMERO: Yeah. And I think that's the question on everyone's mind. Cargo theft is just the latest on a long list of problems causing shipping and causing shortages. In a letter to the district attorney's office, the rail company is blaming on the no cash bail policy, which in part is causing the frequency in these thefts. The company says more than 100 people have been arrested, but these thieves, they boast to their officers that charges will be pled down.

So far, the rail company has reported a loss of $5 million at the beginning of December. And that amount is actually expected to go up pretty soon once Union Pacific factors in those on the holiday shippings. But we also reached out to the district attorney's office of LA. And their response says that some cases being presented to their office are being filed in burglary and grand theft. But other cases just do not have enough evidence to prosecute. However, Union Pacific claims that local prosecutors aren't helping. Alexis, Karina.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: All right. Dani Romero, thanks so much for that report. And great reporting there.

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