Railroad company Union Pacific (UP) is urging Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascon to “reconsider” his directive that specifies 13 specific misdemeanor charges that will be dismissed with certain exceptions.
Their request comes after Los Angeles photojournalist John Schreiber shared footage of train tracks belonging to UP in the Lincoln Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles and described “looted packages as far as the eye can see,” including “Amazon packages, UPS boxes, unused Covid tests, fishing lures, epi pens,” he said in a Thursday tweet.
UP in a Friday statement urged Gascon to “reconsider” Special Directive 20-07, which allows many misdemeanor cases to be declined or dismissed prior to arraignment unless “factors for considerations” exist.
The list of offenses includes trespassing, disturbing the peace, a minor in possession of alcohol, driving without a license, driving with a suspended license, making criminal threats, drug and paraphernalia possession, being under the influence of a controlled substance, public intoxication, loitering to commit prostitution and resisting arrest.
UP’s state director of public affairs, Adrian Guerrero, called the issue “incredibly disappointing and frustrating.”
“But that’s the reality of what Union Pacific has been facing over the past year, and it’s helping us shine a light on this issue. I think it’s a call to action for a number of stakeholders involved in this issue because…there are a number of folks being impacted by this,” Guerrero told Fox News Digital, adding that UP has engaged with the Los Angeles Police Department, Sheriff’s Office and California Highway Patrol to target the thefts.
UP has about 1,600 employees in Los Angeles County and its own police department with primary jurisdiction over crimes committed on the railroad, according to its website. The railroad company estimates more than 90 packages are compromised per day.
Those “who are intent on breaking into these containers can and will find a way,” sometimes “damaging the containers to gain access,” a UP spokesperson told Fox News Digital.
In December 2021, Guerrero sent a letter to the district attorney pointing to rising retail theft crime in Los Angeles County over the past year as part of the problem and asking for assistance in addressing it on Los Angeles railroads. UP experienced a 160% increase in criminal rail theft in Los Angeles County over the past year.
“In several months during that period, the increase from the previous year surpassed 200%. In October 2021 alone, the increase was 356% over compared to October 2020,” Guerrero wrote in the letter. “Not only do these dramatic increases represent retail product thefts – they include increased assaults and armed robberies of UP employees performing their duties moving trains.”
The theft has amounted to more than $5 million in damages to UP alone, which does not include damages to customers or consumers.
Guerrero’s letter to Gascon continued: “UP and our goods movement partners strongly urge you to reconsider the policies detailed in Special Directive 20-07. While we understand the well-intended social justice goals of the policy, we need our justice system to support our partnership efforts with local law enforcement, hold these criminals accountable, and most important, help protect our employees and the critical local and national rail network.”
Organized criminal syndicates that plan thefts along the railroad system recruit minors and homeless individuals “by force” and have them break into trains and pull boxes and put them “into vehicles,” he explained.
UP started taking note of an increase in rail theft in mid-December of 2020 when the directive was issued.
“While rail theft is a national issue…it’s a state issue here in California. … The difference is how the criminal justice system and how local law enforcement hold these criminals accountable with legal consequences, and that is not the case in LA County,” Guerrero told Fox News.
Governor Gavin Newsom’s office has been helpful in working to establish proactive measures to reduce organized theft, Guerrero said.
The governor in July signed a bill to create crime task forces around the California Highway Patrol and local agencies to address organized theft rings. AB 331 also re-established organized retail theft as a crime, a designation that had lapsed on July 1. It applies to those who work with thieves to steal or receive stolen merchandise and those who recruit or organize theft rings.
The issue of railroad tracks in generally poor condition is not new to the city. Los Angeles Councilman Joe Buscaino, who represents District 15, southwest of Lincoln Heights, introduced a resolution in February 2021 to declare parts of Union Pacific’s railroad tracks as a public nuisance, which would allow city workers to help clean up the tracks.
The resolution states that “the presence of homeless encampments, illegal dumping, graffiti and overgrown weeds and vegetation on Union Pacific’s rights-of-way is a public nuisance and in need of abatement.”
In a statement to Fox News Digital, Special Adviser to Gascon Alex Bastian said, “Our office is committed to working with law enforcement to ensure collective safety across Los Angeles County’s sprawling infrastructure, whether it’s at our ports or on railroad tracks. Some cases presented to our office by Union Pacific have been filed, such as burglary and grand theft, while others have been declined due to insufficient evidence. We make charging decisions based on the evidence.”
“Our office takes Union Pacific’s concerns seriously and hopes to discuss this issue more in the coming weeks,” Bastian continued.
Fox News’ Louis Casiano contributed to this report.