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Cargo Security Getting Some Respect

CARGO THEFT has long been the Rodney Dangerfield of crimes in the United States. Even as some cargo crime-fighting groups agitated for an official accounting of the problem, no federal agency tracked incidents in a way that could yield a useful database. For purposes of the FBI Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) system, cargo theft could be coded as any number of categories, such as theft or grand larceny. Insurers, interest groups, the FBI, and others offered wildly different estimates of the annual dollar loss attributed to cargo theft—from a few billion dollars to $120 billion.

Thanks to a provision in the law that reauthorized the USA Patriot Act, however, cargo theft is finally getting some respect. The provision requires the attorney general to endow cargo theft with its own UCR code by the end of this year. The law also calls for the establishment of a national cargo theft database, long a goal of the American Trucking Associations and regional cargo theft task forces such as Cargo CATS, a multiagency unit based in Los Angeles.

Cargo security professionals are applauding the change. “We’re hoping that the change in the UCR…will help the FBI and law enforcement agencies across the country track the full extent of cargo theft and the losses that U.S. businesses experience,” says William Corley, until recently director of the International Cargo Security Council (ICSC).

Randy Mullett, vice president of government relations for supply-chain solutions provider CNF, says that the law will have both immediate and long-term impact. In the short term, insurers will monitor the database to identify the nature and geographic location of the crimes. But getting the UCR programming in place and raising awareness at all levels of law enforcement will take time, Mullett says. “We’re probably looking three or four years out before there’s meaningful actual data.”

Corley predicts that the data will show that cargo crime is grossly underestimated. Mullett, who sits on the board of the ICSC, thinks that it will show that the crime is underreported but may be overstated by some organizations for political ends. The real goal, he adds, is not to determine whether its extent has been understated or overhyped, but to pinpoint where attention is merited, such as identifying any connections between cargo crime and terrorism.

“We’ll get away from all these assumptions to actual data,” Mullett says. “It may prove we don’t need to put money into a certain type of crime fighting or into certain geographic areas, or it might show that we are grossly underfighting cargo theft in some areas.”