As long as people have been moving goods, other people have been stealing them. So it's no surprise that cargo theft is major problem for trucking. If you run a fleet, you've had to deal with theft, probably more often then you'd like to admit. And that's part of the problem.
Despite your own inevitable experiences with cargo theft, my guess is that you'll be surprised to hear current estimates of the value of goods stolen in transit in the U.S. range from $10- to $25-billion a year. In line with its share of the cargo market, trucking endures about 85% of those thefts. And as high as those numbers may be, they don't even include indirect costs for law enforcement, insurance or security activity triggered by stolen freight.
Any other issue that's costing billions of dollars a year quickly becomes a prime topic of conversation at all of the industry's public forums — but not the year-in, year-out plundering of freight. No one wants to be the first one to publicly admit cargo in their care has been stolen, so the size of the problem remains largely hidden.
That reluctance is understandable. No one enjoys negative publicity, especially if it undermines customer confidence in your service. It's a particularly sensitive issue if you suspect someone inside your organization was involved, as is often the case. Also, it's easier to absorb smaller claims than risk an increase in insurance premiums or give away customer information to competitors.
Problems swept under the rug, though, don't get solved. As uncomfortable as it may make you feel, it's time to deal with the issue as an individual fleet and as an industry.
Why not leave it alone? For one thing, the FBI and other law-enforcement groups say this “victimless” crime is becoming more violent, which means you owe it to your employees to do what you can to shield them from potential harm. And since it adds to the overall cost of running a truck fleet, you owe it to your shippers, stockholders and other customers, internal and external, to address the issue.
Most importantly, though, you probably don't have a choice. Domestic counter-terrorism efforts have targeted cargo security as a prime goal. While the intent is to keep terrorists from turning trucks into mobile bombs or contaminating cargo, the required step-up in security should also make it tougher for freight to “fall off the truck.”
Those efforts already include new background check requirements, surveillance programs like Highway Watch, and even a new FBI database just for tracking cargo thefts. Even the terrorism-inspired Patriot Act has weighed in on the issue, specifically setting stiff federal prison sentences for anyone convicted of cargo theft.
As useful as these government efforts may be, there is no silver bullet for such a persistent and pervasive problem as cargo theft. It's going to take many weapons, both simple and sophisticated, to bring the thieves with eyes on your trucks under control. But before the industry can even begin to figure out how best to deal with the issue, trucking has to admit that it has a cargo theft problem — a big one.