Protecting Truck Cargo on Nation's Highways

Crime doesn't pay? Tell that to truck cargo thieves

Dan Purtell is regularly hired by companies from around the world to map out logistics. He will recommend carriers that are known for their safety. Big carriers he says, carefully check the criminal records of their drivers. They also instruct their drivers on the best ways to avoid cargo theft. Drivers carrying a high-value load, for example, drive in teams so that the truck never has to stop. When one driver tires, the other one takes over.

In some cases Purtell hires security escorts, both covert and overt, to follow high-value loads. He also advises his clients which airports are safest to fly in (DFW gets high marks, he says) and which cities they should avoid altogether (Atlanta is one, he says).

Carriers have also become more sophisticated in the technology they use. Most big carriers equip their tractors and trailers with hidden GPS tracking systems. Others use "smart containers" which are equipped to detect any changes in the temperature of the container or whether a door has been opened.

"If a trailer is going from Los Angeles to St. Louis they can ask, 'Why was that trailer opened in Phoenix?' It's great technology for cargo theft, and it's great technology for counter-terrorism."

In the last year Purtell says, there has been a global rise in cargo theft. He attributes this to the opening of new markets in places such as Africa, Asia and South America. "We've been selling to the safe world, and now we're selling to the dangerous world."

Experts such as Purtell agree that in the United States there is a need for more cargo theft task forces that are specially trained to deal with the problem. The key to taking down cargo gangs he says, is intelligence. And that only comes when police departments from across the country work together.

He's not so sure that Dallas needs a cargo theft task force however. As bad as the problem is here, it's worse in other places that are having to fight to keep their task forces in existence.

Detective Wallace may not agree. More and more trucks pass through Dallas each day and with them, so do more and more cargo thieves.

"It's all I work on," Wallace says. "And I'm completely snowed under."