On a hot summer night in metro Atlanta, members of the Georgia Cargo Theft Task Force sat in a truck stop parking lot, watching countless 18-wheelers drive in and out. Working with the Gwinnett County Police Department, they were looking for a specific tractor-trailer that was stolen a few hours before, more than 1,000 miles outside of Atlanta. Thanks to their advance knowledge and the stakeout, they ultimately arrested two men and recovered $125,000 in stolen goods.
This type of organized response would have been unthinkable before the establishment of the Southeastern Transportation Security Council (SETSC), an organization that bridges the gap between private industry and law enforcement to fight cargo theft. The group uses a variety of grassroots communication methods to alert law enforcement of cargo thefts. Its efforts have resulted in several arrests and the recovery of goods valued at more than a million dollars.
As recently as a few years ago, cargo theft and its ramifications were not widely recognized by law enforcement in the Southeastern United States. However, when police in Tennessee and Miami--frequent stops for cargo bandits--began getting tough on these crimes, thieves had to look for a safe midway point where they could dump stolen tractor-trailers and load the goods into a "clean" trailer that would be unrecognized by Florida police.
Georgia was a perfect safe haven because police in the area had not yet recognized the threat of cargo theft and had done little to investigate and apprehend criminals. Abandoned tractor-trailers were being reported in and around Macon, which is the centrally located metropolitan city, and local law enforcement was poorly equipped to investigate and solve these crimes.
Realizing the need for multiple-state information sharing and a rapid response notification system, Ken Golec, a senior special agent with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Office of the Inspector General, and I (the author), a private security professional working for a supply chain logistics provider, established SETSC. That was in 2001. In the three years since that time, the group has grown to include 400 members representing public and private security organizations spanning seven Southeastern states.
Origins. Bringing together these various groups was not easy. We began by calling our contacts in security for advice and expertise.
As a former police officer turned corporate security director, I focused on recruiting state, local, and county police and on garnering corporate support. Golec focused on the federal agencies, including the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. These first members helped shape the organization by participating in brainstorming sessions and advertising the group to other security professionals.
Winning law enforcement support. Convincing law enforcement to participate was difficult. Even though corporations in the Southeast lost millions of dollars each year as a result of cargo theft, police had typically given a low priority to investigating these crimes because they were often too busy on other cases.
Another reason police showed less interest in pursuing cargo theft was that businesses could not point to Uniform Crime Report (UCR) statistics showing that cargo theft was a significant problem. That was because cargo theft did not have its own UCR code, unlike crimes such as homicide. Instead, because cargo theft often involves a vehicle, the majority of the crimes are reported under the auto theft category. (SETSC is currently joining with other cargo security groups to lobby Congress for the creation of an independent UCR code.)
Recognizing that police participation was vital to the success of the organization, SETSC offered free membership to all law enforcement personnel. Another key to recruiting law enforcement was the opportunity for Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) sessions at every monthly meeting. …