LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — Medical equipment, designer handbags, luggage, throw pillows, airline parts, children's artwork, even a new wine fridge – all those items and more have been found stolen off Union Pacific trains and discarded alongside the tracks in East LA.
Images of thousands of stolen and discarded packages alongside the Union Pacific train tracks near Union Station have people around the world asking – how does this happen? Apparently, it's a near perfect storm of an ongoing train robbery problem, the pandemic, and the Los Angeles County District Attorney's policy of no-cash bail arrests.
"I have been with Union Pacific for 16 years, and I have never, ever seen this situation to this degree," said Lupe Valdez, the company's senior director of public affairs.
Valdez says, on average, 90 of their containers are compromised each day. But between October 2020 and October 2021, train robberies have picked up exponentially by a whopping 356%. Union Pacific has increased its enforcement and patrols, and has put drones to work, but now they are looking into diverting trains so they don't pass through Los Angeles County at all.
"We are making arrests, but what our officers are seeing on the ground is that people are basically being arrested, there is no bail, they come out the next day and come back to rob our trains," Valdez said.
Union Pacific's chief has a meeting with the LAPD next week, and last month, sent a letter to Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón, calling this a "spiraling crisis" and imploring his office to hold criminals accountable.
"Even with all the arrests made, the no-cash bail policy and extended timeframe for suspects to appear in court is causing re-victimization to UP by these same criminals," the letter says. "In fact criminals boast to our officers that charges will be pled down to simple trespassing – which bears no serious consequences."
Alex Bastian, Special Advisor to Gascón provided a statement to CBSLA Friday afternoon:
"Our office is committed to working with law enforcement to ensure collective safety across Los Angeles County's sprawling infrastructure, whether it's at our ports or on railroad tracks. Some cases presented to our office by Union Pacific have been filed, such as burglary and grand theft, while others have been declined due to insufficient evidence. We make charging decisions based on the evidence. Our office takes Union Pacific's concerns seriously and hopes to discuss this issue more in the coming weeks."
Back in December, Union Pacific's losses were at least $5 million, and the company says it hasn't yet updated that information through the holidays and into January.
The theft opportunity has apparently become common knowledge, according to one neighbor who asked to remain unidentified. She said that, between 3 and 4 a.m., it's not unusual to see big groups of people with backpacks on, ready to take whatever they can.
Valdez says Union Pacific has a claims process for missing packages, but customers like UPS and FedEx are now starting to divert their business to other areas.
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