Is drop in cargo theft a trend?

By Greg Grisolano, Land Line staff writer | 11/14/2013

At least one report on cargo theft activity in the U.S. shows a steep decline compared with last year. But are the new numbers the start of a trend, or are they marred by the lack of national standards in reporting cargo theft incidents?

The third quarter, the peak shipping time for goods to be sold during the Christmas shopping season, is usually the period of highest theft activity during the year, according to J.J. Coughlin, director of law enforcement services with Supply Chain Information and Analysis Center.

In an interview with “Land Line Now” on Wednesday, Nov. 13, Coughlin said the results were likely an anomaly.

“Until we actually have more a few more quarters to see if it keeps trending that direction, I would say it’s a one-time trend,” he said.

A Nov. 12 piece published by Forbes discusses the latest cargo theft numbers for the third quarter 2013, which saw 195 incidents, compared with 285 reported in the same quarter of 2012, according to SC-ISAC. SC-ISAC is sponsored by the International Cargo Security Council, and “collects, analyzes and disseminates security intelligence across the Supply Chain Industry” according to its website.

Coughlin did say that awareness has been a key factor in motivating shippers to take steps to protect themselves.

“A couple of industries that were really at the top of the target list for a long time, tobacco and pharmaceuticals, now barely get on the list because they’ve done so much as an industry to protect themselves you just don’t see them,” he said. “You can beat the problem, but you have to work at it.”

Doug Morris, OOIDA director of security operations, said in most cases, law enforcement relies on the industry to investigate the thefts. But the development of some regional cargo-theft taskforces is a positive step.

“Before it was nonexistent, but now you’re starting to see these cargo-theft task forces,” Morris said. “It should be across-the-nation, but law enforcement is actually stepping up somewhat. Now you’re starting to see more interaction with loss-prevention personnel.”

Morris and Coughlin both say that one of the biggest challenges in cargo theft is the lack of reliable data about its frequency. While the Forbes article estimated that 15 to 20 percent of all instances are reported to SC-ISAC, Morris estimates that the percent of reported incidents is actually closer to 10 percent.

FreightWatch International, a private logistics and security firm, also tracks and publishes quarterly reports about cargo theft in the United States. In the company’s most recent report issued Oct. 23 and covering third quarter 2013, the company reported a total of 231 thefts in the U.S., a number equal to the incidents in third quarter 2012. The company report also notes that they expect totals for the most recent quarter to rise above 2012 levels, due to delays in incident reporting.

“A lot of times it depends on the reporting and if the reporting is consistent,” Coughlin said. “There’s really not a national system in place either through law enforcement or through the industry; it could be a reporting anomaly or it could be a trend.”

“Land Line Now” News Anchor Reed Black contributed to this report.

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