Union Pacific, the nation's largest railroad franchise, is considering rerouting its trains around Los Angeles amid a spike in railcar thefts, according to a CBS News affiliate.
In the past year, Los Angeles County has seen a 160 percent jump in criminal rail theft, with October 2021 showing a 356 percent increase from the year before. Offenders have stolen from, assaulted, and even committed armed robbery of Union Pacific employees, amounting to "$5 million in claims, losses, and damages," according to the company. The railroad is faulting L.A. County district attorney George Gascón's (D.) "well-intended social justice goals," such as no-cash bail, for the railway theft spike.
"Criminals are caught and arrested, turned over to local authorities for booking, arraigned before the local courts, charges are reduced to a misdemeanor or petty offense, and the criminal is released after paying a nominal fine," Union Pacific general director of public affairs Adrian Guerrero wrote in a letter to Gascón. "In fact, criminals boast to our officers that charges will be pled down to simple trespassing—which bears no serious consequence."
CBS 2 photojournalist John Schreiber has documented the rail theft spike, posting videos of tracks in the region littered with thousands of ravaged boxes, packages, and bags.
Keep hearing of train burglaries in LA on the scanner so went to #LincolnHeights to see it all. And… there’s looted packages as far as the eye can see. Amazon packages, @UPS boxes, unused Covid tests, fishing lures, epi pens. Cargo containers left busted open on trains. @CBSLA pic.twitter.com/JvNF4UVy2K
— John Schreiber (@johnschreiber) January 13, 2022
Echoing calls from defund the police activists to "reimagine public safety," Gascón in December 2020 sent a special directive for L.A. County to dismiss misdemeanor offenses such as trespassing, drug possession, loitering, and resisting arrest. The directive also orders deputy district attorneys "to waive fines and fees" for offenders unable to afford legal representation.
About 90 containers are being compromised a day, according to Union Pacific. The company also said it has not been notified of any court proceedings after making more than 100 arrests on its own. It said it has employed additional special agents to combat the theft spike and is exploring the use of "drones, specialized fencing, trespass detection systems, and other measures."
The district attorney's office told CBS 2 reporter Kristine Lazar it has filed some cases involving burglary and grand theft but has dismissed others "due to insufficient evidence." It affirmed that it "takes Union Pacific's concerns seriously and hopes to discuss this issue more in the coming weeks," the office said in a statement.