Cargo theft has become a booming business in America, worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $10 billion annually, according to most estimates. In the State of Florida, however, law enforcement officials are deploying a new web-based software system in the fight against freight theft, and it is turning the tables on criminals.

In August of 2005, the Florida Highway Patrol launched a new, web-based Electronic Freight Theft Management System (EFTMS). The new system provide a means for carriers to quickly get information about a theft out to the law enforcement officials—fast enough for law enforcement to intercept the stolen equipment and cargo en route from the theft location to the thief’s destination. It’s not intended to replace the need to report a theft to the law enforcement agency in the jurisdiction of the incident, however.

“Experience had taught us that stolen commodities were being driven long distances to the thief’s preplanned destination,” explained Lt. Bill Shiver of the Florida Highway Patrol. “These highly visible, well-marked commercial vehicles were driving by law enforcement and were being totally unchallenged due to the fact that law enforcement alerts were being centered in the vicinity of the theft incident. By the time the alert was given, the stolen commodity was generally well outside the area of the alert.

“The EFTMS will entirely replace our older Fax-Alert Anti-Theft System by next January,” continued Shiver. “It was financed by the Florida Department of Transportation Motor Carrier Compliance, developed by the University of Central Florida and is administered by the Florida Highway Patrol. I don’t think there is another system like it. Within two minutes of entering a theft report onto the system, it is in every trooper’s car and in the hands of hundreds of other investigators.”

In fact, a theft report came through from El Paso, TX , while Shiver was being interviewed--$50,000 worth of copper wire in reels on a flatbed trailer were stolen, right along with the Freightliner tractor that had been hauling it.

“Use of the EFTMS system is available free of charge to members of the trucking and insurance industries and to law enforcement professionals worldwide,” Shiver added.

All a carrier has to do is go to the website (https://reportcargotheft.fhp.state.fl.us) and click on “Request” to access the application form to open an account. Users who are not in law enforcement have general access to the system, which means they can enter theft reports and have protected access to their own personal database that is automatically maintained on the system.

“Until we launched this program, there was just not any good cargo theft data law enforcement officers could refer to help them justify requests for funds, additional manpower, sting operations and so on,” he said. “Officers can query this system, for instance, to get information about cargo thefts in a specific area, and that is a big help. I would love to see every state have an EFTMS and see them all linked together.”

Florida’s new system, coupled with a general crackdown on cargo theft in the state, has definitely tipped the scale against cargo thieves, according to Shiver. “We do truly believe that, if we haven’t stopped the cargo theft problem in Florida, we’ve certainly displaced it to other southeastern states,” he said.