Los Angeles railroad robbery rings busted, police say

Two theft rings that reported more than $18 million in goods stolen from railroad cars have been dismantled, authorities said on Thursday, months after footage of a sea of ​​abandoned containers along the tracks from the Union Pacific in Lincoln Heights captured national attention.

During the months-long operation to combat railroad robbery in Los Angeles County, a task force made more than 700 arrests and recovered millions of dollars in stolen property, including handbags from creators, power tools and a pair of empty caskets, authorities said.

“It required a dedicated series, and it also required law enforcement resources outside of the LAPD, California Highway Patrol, Sheriff’s Department, law enforcement,” said Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore, during an afternoon press conference. “People’s willingness to buy something at a discount and seek it out fuels the greed of receivers to go find individuals who will go out and commit burglaries.”

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

Some of the robberies were the work of opportunists working alone, but authorities said they identified two organized fencing rings. Two dozen members of these networks have been arrested, about half of whom are charged with crimes including burglary and receiving stolen goods, authorities said. Their operations reached far eastern Texas; Authorities said they also traced some of the stolen property to Mexico.

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

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

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

In a letter to LA County Dist. Atti. George Gascón in December, Union Pacific reported that robberies targeting its trains in Los Angeles County were up 160% over the previous year, with a particularly strong increase as the peak holiday season approaches. The railroad company argued that the theft problem had been made worse by Gascón’s approach to criminal prosecution.

“Charges are reduced to a misdemeanor or misdemeanor, and the criminal is released after paying a nominal fine,” Union Pacific public affairs director Adrian Guerrero said in the letter.

In response, Gascón chastised Union Pacific for its lack of security and said his office was pressing charges against the suspects.

Moore echoed that sentiment Thursday, saying the district attorney’s office’s position on such cases has “evolved.”

It’s still unclear how widespread train robbery is, as national data on such crimes is spotty at best.

Union Pacific and other railroads operate their own private police forces and frequently cooperate with law enforcement. Rail operators have taken steps in recent months to strengthen permanent security measures around rail lines, including increasing 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 increase surveillance of its property through artificial intelligence-enhanced surveillance.

“Artificial intelligence is configured to detect people and vehicles in restricted areas, and once these restricted areas are created through an invisible geofence, they alert our command center in Long Beach, where our specialist agents are in able to take appropriate action in real time. act,” he said.

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

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

Times staff writers Rachel Uranga and Richard Winton contributed to this report.

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