Los Angeles City Councilman Joe Buscaino introduced a motion Wednesday calling for a thorough report on package thefts from Union Pacific Railroad trains in Los Angeles, which have caused the tracks to be littered with the remnants of looted packages.
“The communities that UP tracks go through in Los Angeles already suffer disproportionately from quality of life issues,” Buscaino said. “The recent train thefts have drawn attention to long-standing issues associated with criminal trespassing.”
The motion, if approved by the City Council, would instruct the Chief Legislative Analyst to report on the thefts, including:
— arrests made and whether the cases were referred for prosecution by the City Attorney’s Office, District Attorney’s Office or U.S. Attorney’s office;
— charges filed;
— the number of Union Pacific Police officers permanently assigned to patrol the area, current deployment and the minimum number of officers on duty at any given time;
— preventative measures in place to deter thefts and trespassing; and
— recommendations to prevent future thefts and hold perpetrators accountable.
The motion also requests that the report be done with assistance from Union Pacific Railroad, the District Attorney, the City Attorney, the United States Attorney for the Central District of California, the Los Angeles Police Department, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, Los Angeles Port Police, BNSF Railroad and the Alameda Corridor Transportation Authority.
“Whether it’s the district attorney’s criminal justice reform policies or Union Pacific’s lack of security that are contributing to these brazen thefts, the City Council should conduct a thorough investigation to get a full understanding of the problem,” Buscaino added.
On Friday, L.A. County District Attorney George Gascón said the railroad doesn’t do enough to ensure its trains are adequately locked and protected.
In a letter to UP General Director of Public Affairs Adrian Guerrero, the district attorney said the Los Angeles Police Department has determined that “UP does little to secure or lock trains and has significantly decreased law enforcement staffing.”
“It is very telling that other major railroad operations in the area are not facing the same level of theft at their facilities as UP,” Gascón wrote.
Guerrero wrote to the DA’s office last month, suggesting that Gascón’s decision to dismisses certain misdemeanors such as trespassing has resulted in a spike in railway container theft that cost UP an estimated $5 million.
According to UP statistics, train container theft increased by 160% from 2020 to 2021 in L.A. County, with more than 90 containers broken into every day on average.
Gascón said Friday that his office recently conducted a review of cases submitted for filing consideration over the last three years in which UP is listed as a victim and found that the number actually dropped in 2021.
In 2019, 78 cases were presented for filing; in 2020, 56 cases were presented for filing; and in a “sharp decline,” 47 such cases involving UP were presented for filing consideration last year, Gascón wrote, with over half of those filed by the DA’s office for prosecution.
The charges filed included both felony and misdemeanor offenses alleging burglary, theft, and receiving stolen property, the DA wrote.
“Of the 20 cases that were declined for filing, 10 were not filed due to the insufficiency of the evidence presented to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt, which is our ethical standard to file a criminal case,” according to Gascón.
“The other 10 declined matters involved offenses such as allegations of unhoused individuals within 20 feet of the railroad tracks and simple possession of drugs for personal use — not allegations of burglary, theft, or tampering. Although homelessness is a serious issue, it is not one that we can fix through expending resources of the criminal legal system.”
On Thursday, Gov. Gavin Newsom, saying images of looted packages littering UP tracks in Los Angeles “look like a third-world country,” announced a multi-agency push to clean up the mess, along with planned state efforts to combat the rampant theft that produced it.