Though cargo thefts in the U.S. declined overall in the first quarter this year largely due to lower quarter-over-quarter freight volumes, the transportation industry is gaining ground to a degree in its ongoing battle to thwart cargo thieves.

According to research firm FreightWatch International, a total of 188 cargo thefts occurred in the U.S. during the first quarter – 53 thefts in January, 70 in February and 65 in March – with the average loss value per incident pegged at $141,266. However, this is a 25% decrease in volume and a 21% decrease in value from the fourth quarter of 2012, though FreightWatch cautioned such a decline is “typical” due to lower shipping volumes.

However, FreightWatch also noted in its annual Cargo Theft Report for 2012 that the overall number of freight theft incidents in the U.S. decreased by 0.5% last year.

Another cargo monitoring firm – SC Integrity – noted in its first quarter report the cargo thefts are also down overall, despite an uptick in theft activity in South Carolina, Illinois, Maryland, Kentucky, Alabama, Michigan and Pennsylvania, with each of those states home to three cargo theft incidents between January and March.

Still, Mary Aftanas, director of property and casualty investigations for the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) told Fleet Owner that more recoveries of stolen goods are occurring due to wider use of technology, especially tracking systems.

“For example, the Pharmaceutical Cargo Security Coalition reported that five stolen loads between December 16 and February 4 were recovered; three of which the direct result of GPS tracking technology,” she said.

Walter Fountain, director of safety and enterprise security for Schneider National, pointed out that Schneider achieved a 40% decline in full-truckload thefts alongside a 50% reduction in total value per load stolen last year – cutting the overall number of thefts experienced by the TL carrier from 25 thefts in 2006 to just eight in 2012.

“For a company that moves almost three million loads of freight each year, that’s impressive,” Fountain said. “But the formula for success is no secret [as we] concentrate on making ongoing improvements to its technology and training programs while emphasizing situational awareness and a load-specific communication strategy. It’s all about knowing the ins and outs of the freight we’re moving, keeping our customers updated, and arming our drivers with exceptional training and information.”

NICB’s Aftanas added that collaboration is critical in the fight against cargo theft, since law enforcement is operating with limited resources, not a high investigative priority, prosecutions are low, and fines and imprisonment guidelines need to be increased.

“Collaboration and applying the ‘layered’ approach protecting loads is critical,” she explained. “Also, screen employees, provide security training for all employees, focus on in-transit security, employ counter-surveillance awareness, take advantage of technology, and conduct frequent security audits.”

Legislation is also being deployed to help in the battle against cargo theft as well, Aftanas said, pointing to the recent passage of the Safe Doses Act, signed into law October 2012. That law “modernized” the U.S. criminal code, she noted, increasing penalties for medical product cargo theft and providing law enforcement with more legal tools to deter such criminal behavior and help take down organizations that are perpetrating cargo theft.

She added that an increase in prosecutions for cargo theft occurred in recent months both in the U.S. and Canada, including:

  • December 17, 2012 – 10 Kansas City area men indicted for nearly $1 million conspiracy to steal trucks, trailers, and cargo:
  • December 23 – Three charged in North Jersey stolen clothing ring;
  • March 22, 2013 – Fairview police charge two men in Gap clothing cargo thefts;
  • April 16, 2013 – Police bust tractor-trailer theft ring possessing $1.5 million in goods stolen in Quebec, arresting six, with the stolen goods ranging from energy drinks and electronics to frozen crab.

“Parking lots and truck stops remain the top two locations for theft, along with fictitious pick-up activity,” Aftanas added. “Also, most stolen remains food and metal.”

Schneider’s Fountain stressed that, going forward, it will be “crucial” for the transportation industry and shippers to help foster new methods to deter cargo theft.

“We recently started work on designing a custom lock to keep loads even safer and we champion the idea of creating tailored security solutions that help keep customer freight safe and secure,” he said.

“In addition to emphasizing security-based training and situational awareness for our drivers, we also work hand-in-hand with its customers to engineer security processes into loads before they’re on the road,” Fountain pointed out. “Advance communication and use of team drivers on high-value loads, layers of security procedures, and both high- and low-tech security solutions are also critical in keeping freight safe.”