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Cargo theft is surging across the GTA, and police are struggling to stop it

Surge in tractor trailer thefts leave police puzzled
Peel police can’t say exactly why there’s been such a sharp rise in cargo thefts, but they’re hoping for more help on the front lines and the courtrooms to put a stop to it. Kamil Karamali reports.

Monday’s deadly incident — in which a stolen tractor trailer, filled with boxes of meat, hit two vehicles before ramming into an Esso gas station in Mississauga — was just one of potentially hundreds of cargo theft incidents the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) could see in the new year, according to police.

“I can’t really specify why it’s going up as drastic as it is,” said Det. Paul Allen with Peel Regional Police’s cargo theft unit.

New numbers provided to Global News by Peel police show a sharp rise in reported tractor-trailer thefts in the past five years.

In 2015, Peel police fielded calls for a total of 98 reported cargo thefts. It also received a total of 175 reports of stolen tractors and 59 stolen trailers without any cargo.

READ MORE: Driver of stolen tractor trailer dead after crashing into 2 vehicles, Mississauga gas station sign — police

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By 2018, that number had soared to 341 reported cargo thefts, 261 stolen tractors and 86 empty stolen trailers.

“The GTA is the hotbed of cargo crime in Canada,” said Marco Beghetto with the Ontario Trucking Association.

“There were more goods stolen in Canada than all of the U.S. in 2018,” he said, referring to the trucking advocacy group’s numbers. “Peel Region comes only behind California as the highest jurisdiction for cargo crime.”

Marco Beghetto with the Ontario Trucking Association said he wants to see stiffer penalties for cargo thefts so that there are fewer repeat offenders out on the streets.
Marco Beghetto with the Ontario Trucking Association said he wants to see stiffer penalties for cargo thefts so that there are fewer repeat offenders out on the streets. Global News

Allen said it’s tough to pinpoint exactly why there has been such a sharp uptick in reports of stolen tractor trailers and their cargo, but his guess is that it has to do with the growing trucking industry in Mississauga and Brampton — combined with the rise of products’ value over time.

He doesn’t hide the fact that one thing that has been consistent is that it’s always been a “low risk, high reward” type of crime.

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“We find that they’re making about 30 cents on every dollar,” said Allen.

“Some of the loads are $30,000 worth, and we’ve had loads that are a million dollars’ worth — so you do that math. They’re making pretty good money for one night’s work.”

Peel police struggling with resources, court system

Allen added that Peel police are struggling with resources when it comes to tackling the surging number of reported cargo and tractor-trailer thefts it has seen in recent years.

“Manpower within the police is a big hurdle,” he said.

“When we have the big year, 341 loads (stolen)… that’s a lot… and when you only have three or four officers working, that’s a very large workload to try and get through.”

Only Peel and York police services currently have a unit dedicated specifically to tackling tractor-trailer thefts and cargo crime.

Allen says Peel police officers get put in other areas of the service but adds that he would like more personnel.

Driver of stolen tractor trailer dead after causing multi-vehicle crash in Mississauga
Driver of stolen tractor trailer dead after causing multi-vehicle crash in Mississauga

“We go through our chain of command and we try and address those issues and we hope for the best,” he said.

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But the cargo theft unit detective said it’s not just a lack of team members that makes it difficult to put a stop to people stealing tractor trailers — the court system allows many of the thieves caught and convicted to walk right back out onto the streets.

“When they are caught, they’re put before the courts and they’re usually released within 24 hours and they’re back out doing what they were doing before,” said Allen. “It’s very difficult at times.”

The Ontario Trucking Association said it would like to see the laws changed to include stiffer penalties for those convicted of cargo theft.

“I think part of the problem we have is that the laws, as they are currently written, do not differentiate between simple crime and cargo crime — so they do not take into consideration the impacts on society and the economy in general,” said Beghetto.

Tow trucks torched in what may be a ‘turf war’
Tow trucks torched in what may be a ‘turf war’

“I think the laws need some teeth.”

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He adds that cargo theft is usually seen as a “victimless crime,” but it doesn’t account for the domino effect the theft has in the crime world.

“The thing about cargo crime that people have to realize is that we’re not talking about amateurs here, we’re talking about a very sophisticated network of organized crime,” said Beghetto.

“Often what happens is that the cargo crime is used to support and fund a far more nefarious criminal activity, so they have a very sophisticated network of buyers ready to go,” he added.

“Even before police begin their investigations, the product is gone.”

Stopping thieves starts with the cargo companies, police say

Peel police said they try and do what they can to help trucking companies, but the onus should also be on them to protect themselves.

“One of the things we tell them is that if you’re going to have a high-value load, don’t pack it the night before because it sits overnight and it’s prime to be taken,” Allen said.

He adds that there are usually three ways thieves steal tractor trailers, with the first being the most straightforward.

“They’ll enter a trucking yard and hot-wire the tractor that’s already attached to the trailer and they’ll be gone in minutes,” he explained.

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READ MORE: Driver charged after hitting at least 15 cars with stolen cube van, Toronto police say

The second method, Allen says, involves stealing a semi truck from another location beforehand and then finding a trailer full of valuable products to steal days, or sometimes weeks, later.

The owner of the semi truck involved in the incident at Mavis Road and Eglinton Avenue West on Monday said his vehicle was stolen a week before it was attached to a trailer full of meat.

The last method involves someone from within the company tipping off the thieves.

“We have other ones where they seem to be inside jobs, where the thieves are tipped off by employees as to where a product is and then, again, they’ll take a tractor and hook it up to a trailer,” Allen said.

Harmanjit Jhand is a manager at a trucking company and says he has added “aggressive” security measures to his lot after a sharp rise in thefts in the past few years.
Harmanjit Jhand is a manager at a trucking company and says he has added “aggressive” security measures to his lot after a sharp rise in thefts in the past few years. Global News

Harmanjit Jhand with Pride Truck Sales said the trucking company installed additional surveillance cameras and a security check-in after one of their trailers was stolen last year.

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“It is definitely a concern as far as the cargo theft. Cargo theft has been a concern for the past five years,” Jhand said.

He added that many new trucking companies along Dixie Road in Mississauga try and cut corners when it comes to security but end up paying a hefty price if their cargo gets stolen.

But Jhand adds that when any cargo is stolen, all trucking companies end up paying the price.

“Whenever there is a theft anywhere, there is an insurance claim, and with an insurance claim, it goes up for pretty much everybody,” he said.