CBS 2 Los Angeles photojournalist John Schreiber visited train tracks in the Lincoln Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles and described "looted packages as far as the eye can see," including "Amazon packages, UPS boxes, unused Covid tests, fishing lures, epi pens," he said in a Thursday tweet.
Local law enforcement told Schreiber that UPS bags are popular among "thieves opening cargo containers" because "they are often full of boxes with merchandise bound for residential addresses," he said.
Union Pacific (UP), the railroad company that owns the tracks, has its own police department with primary jurisdiction over crimes committed on the railroad, according to its website.
UP estimates more than 90 packages are compromised per day.
"Union Pacific is very concerned about the increased cargo thefts in California, and we have taken several steps to address this criminal activity," a Union Pacific spokesperson told Fox News in a statement. "These rail crimes pose a serious safety threat to the public, our employees and local law enforcement officers."
The spokesperson continued: "We have increased the number of Union Pacific special agents on patrol, and we have utilized and explored additional technologies to help us combat this criminal activity. We also will continue to work with our local law enforcement partners and elected leaders."
A source told the outlet that Union Pacific's last cleanings happened about one month ago and three months ago.
UP's Adrian Guerrero pointed to rising retail theft crime in Los Angeles County over the past year as part of the problem in a Dec. 20 letter to Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascon. UP experienced a 160% increase in criminal rail theft in Los Angeles County over the past year.
"In several months during that period, the increase from the previous year surpassed 200%. In October 2021 alone, the increase was 356% over compared to October 2020. Not only do these dramatic increases represent retail product thefts – they include increased assaults and armed robberies of UP employees performing their duties moving trains," a UP spokesperson said in another Friday statement.
Union Pacific has "increased" the number of special agents assisting with crime on the tracks over the last three months. Agents have made more than 100 arrests related to vandalism.
"However, Union Pacific has not been contacted for any court proceedings," A UP spokesperson said in a Friday statement. "Union Pacific urges Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascon to reconsider his Special Directive 20-07," which specifies 13 specific misdemeanor charges that will be dismissed with certain exceptions.
"While criminals are being caught and arrested, charges are reduced to a misdemeanor or petty offense, and the person is back on the streets in less than 24 hours after paying a nominal fine. In fact, criminals boast to our officers that there is no consequence," the spokesperson said.
UP says it needs the district attorney's help. "While we understand the well-intended social justice goals of his Special Directive, we need the justice system in LA County to support law enforcement efforts to hold criminals accountable, while protecting Union Pacific employees and the supply chain," the spokesperson continued.
The issue of railroad tracks in generally poor condition is not new to the city. Los Angeles Councilman Joe Buscaino, who represents District 15, southwest of Lincoln Heights, introduced a resolution in February 2021 to declare parts of Union Pacific's railroad tracks as a public nuisance, which would allow city workers to help clean up the tracks.
The resolution states that "the presence of homeless encampments, illegal dumping, graffiti and overgrown weeds and vegetation on Union Pacific’s rights-of-way is a public nuisance and in need of abatement."
It is unclear where the resolution stands a year later.