Freight heists on the rise in Southern California

| 1/11/2002

Southern California has been described as a candy store for cargo thieves. Truck bandits are thriving in the region because of the massive amounts of cargo moving through it around the clock.

Bandits in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and counties each day reportedly rip off about $2 million worth of assorted goods - the highest cargo theft losses in the country. Figures from the California Highway Patrol show that 259 cargo theft investigations were opened in 2000. By Dec. 31, 2001, the number of investigations had ballooned to 437.

Officials believe thieves are enticed by the Los Angeles-Long Beach port complex, the nation's busiest, which each year handles more than 5 million shipping containers with cargo valued at more than $170 billion. Nearby, Los Angeles International Airport ships about 78 percent of the western states' air cargo.

Authorities attribute the surge in thefts partly to the sheer increase in such freight movement in recent years. They also say criminals discovered that cargo heists generally carry lesser penalties than drug dealing, with no start-up costs.

The hottest merchandise on the black market reportedly includes laptop computers and computer chips, as well as baby formula, frozen sea food, toilet paper, clothing, dog food and cigarettes, all of which can be sold easily in small retail outlets locally, in Mexico and overseas.