In the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), under the cover of darkness, crews of cargo thieves canvass isolated industrial trucking yards preparing to steal fully loaded tractor-trailers stocked with a variety of commodity goods. Often these crews will be armed in advance with inside intelligence supplied from corrupt employees regarding the contents of the trailers and the location. Thieves will target these specific loads knowing they have pre-arranged buyers prepared to purchase the stolen goods. In other incidents, these crews will randomly cut the security seals on loaded trailers and take what is of interest, knowing they have a network of buyers that are always interested in a good deal.
The majority of the general public has no idea of the magnitude of the cargo theft problem in Canada or the ripple effect that cargo theft has on the Canadian economy. Most people believe cargo theft is a victimless crime that is an insurance industry problem.
In 2011, the Canadian Trucking Alliance commissioned an independent study that estimated cargo theft had a $5 billion impact on the Canadian economy. It is reasonable to determine that the estimated dollar value today is significantly much higher since cargo theft rates have skyrocketed in the past eight years. Cargo theft rates have almost tripled in the past five years from 213 in 2015 to 621 in 2018 with the majority of thefts occurring in Ontario. This increased number is due to a combination of a recently improved national cargo theft reporting system and an increase in organized cargo theft groups.
Cargo theft is a property offence by definition, but make no mistake; it is an essential money-making revenue stream for organized crime groups. The substantial profits made from the sale of stolen goods helps fund other criminal activities. I refer to cargo theft profits as ‘seed money’ that helps grow other illegal activities. While I was a detective in the Organized Crime Unit, I was amazed that most major projects had a cargo theft tangent or component. Groups would often target specific high-value, small items such as razor blades or batteries which were easily sold to pre-arranged buyers. The earnings made from the stolen goods were then used to fund drug importation activities that would yield profits four times the initial investment made from the cargo theft.
The vast majority of all cargo theft incidents in Ontario occur in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) which has a unique makeup of various crime groups including Traditional Organized Crime (TOC), Eastern European Organized Crime (EEOC), Asian Organized Crime (AOC) and South Asian Organized Crime (SAOC). These groups are organized in the sense that they have dedicated warehouses to store stolen goods, organized theft teams to target specific and random loads, and a distribution system with a network of buyers for stolen goods.
In Ontario, there are only two municipal police services with dedicated cargo theft units. Like any other business, police services face a number of challenges, including the allocation of resources, budget restrictions, and investigative priorities. Today with the increase in gun violence, homicides, and cybercrime activities, there is pressure on police services to do more with less. Unfortunately, since cargo theft investigations are deemed a property crime, they seldom receive the investigative funding that is necessary to support a complex investigation required to properly disrupt and dismantle an organized crime group’s cargo theft activity. The cargo theft officers assigned to these units are skilled investigators but to be effective, they have to use traditional police investigative techniques such as surveillance and utilizing confidential informants to locate stolen loads and identify active group members.
Insurance companies are a major key stakeholder in cargo crime. A concern for all insurance companies that offer cargo theft coverage is the low percentage of stolen loads that are recovered resulting in the payment of claim. Cargo theft claims have a dramatic impact on an insurance provider’s expense loss ratio and bottom line.
Before I left policing, I asked an individual entrenched in cargo theft for decades to provide the best solution to help reduce cargo theft. The individual laughed and said, “GPS every trailer, all the bad guys know the trailers don’t have a GPS, usually only the trucks are.”
Fortunately, today, there is new technology available that can assist insurance companies, commercial transportation carriers, and police services mitigate cargo theft. Cargo security monitoring and escalation technology is an add-on service to GPS that supports trucking companies address and manage cargo crime incidents in progress. When a cargo security alert is received from a truck, trailer, or embedded cargo device, a crisis response centre operator sends a notification and validates the signal. If the alarm is deemed valid, then the police are immediately notified and given an encrypted URL live tracking link to assist with real-time load recovery and suspect apprehension efforts. In addition, tracking history details are provided with the necessary grounds for evidence required to obtain a search warrant if the stolen load ends up in a warehouse.
Hopefully, this enhanced GPS technology will help mitigate losses for transportation carriers and insurance companies and provide police with real-time tracking investigative tools necessary to help fight organized crime groups involved in cargo theft.