With more than 2 million trucks on the road in the U.S., some 63 percent of all freight travels in trailers. Thieves exploit the weak links in this supply chain, including poorly guarded warehouses and truckers who fail to heed shipping rules.
The biggest vulnerability, however, is a lack of coordination across jurisdictions. Police departments are geared for local crime, but when the target and the crook are both passing through, the location of the theft becomes incidental. By the time patrolmen begin investigating a lost trailer, the truck is likely out of the county. If a criminal is arrested, the sentences are often so light that many county attorneys don't bother prosecuting.
"The problem is that it's so lucrative and the risk is so low," says Ed Petow, the former commander of the Tomcats, a task force in Miami-Dade County that unites local and state police detectives with federal agents to combat cargo crime.
"By comparison, every bank robbery in the U.S. - whether they take $10 or $10m - is ultimately investigated by the FBI," says Chuck Forsaith, chairman of the Pharmaceutical Cargo Security Coalition. "Cargo theft is different. A tractor-trailer stolen in Opelika, Ala., with $10m in fragrances, or pharmaceuticals, or tobacco - you know who's going to investigate that? The midnight guy in the Opelika P.D."
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