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Investigative Report

Before Recent Wave of Train Cargo Thefts, Union Pacific Laid Off Unspecified Number of Its Railroad Police Force

News organizations both locally and nationally have been covering the rise of cargo theft in L.A.’s northeast train tracks in the past few days. Anchors on morning news have been quick to point out that there have been over 100 arrests, and even Forbes have been quick to point out the staggering $5 million worth of merchandise lifted. L.A. TACO first reported on this last November. 

Union Pacific, the train company, has gone so far as blasting L.A. District Attorney George   Gascon for his policy that has enabled this rampant rise in theft. 

However, one major development that may be directly correlated with the rise in theft has continuously been left out: In September of 2020, due to pandemic-related budget cuts, Union Pacific laid off an unspecified number of employees across the railroad system. Including members of its railroad-only police force. Despite record profits in the billions in the last quarter of 2021. 

All photos by Mike Ade for L.A. TACO.

A Union Pacific worker, who asked to remain nameless, came forward to L.A. TACO. In their opinion, the company should “shoulder some of the responsibility instead of just pointing fingers.”

The Union Pacific Police department has jurisdiction over the 32,000 miles of track Union Pacific owns. Many of these "special agents" used to patrol this now infamous stretch of track. According to the source, the number of patrolling officers has been cut from 50 to 60 agents to eight, which the worker thinks has led to an increase in train robberies.

This past Saturday, 17 cars of a Union Pacific train derailed below Valley Boulevard and San Pablo Street. The tracks were lined with the debris and remains of cardboard boxes which some feel played a role in the train's derailment. 

A Union Pacific spokesman said, "The train crew was not hurt, and the cause is under investigation." Union Pacific workers quickly removed the train and started repairs. As of Monday night, train traffic resumed on the tracks, and the debris of boxes was being cleaned up. L.A. TACO reached out to Union Pacific’s media team regarding the maintenance history of this stretch of the track, but they have yet to respond. 

Opportunists have been accessing poorly secured cargo containers and claiming packages as their own. In a letter to Los Angeles District Attorney George Gasćon, penned by registered lobbyist and General Director of Union Pacific Adrian Guerrero, alleges that “ Since December 2020, Union Pacific has experienced an over 160% increase in theft in criminal rail theft in LA county,” he said. “In several months during that period, the increase from the previous year surpassed 200%. In October 2021 alone, the increase was 356% over October 2020.”

The letter also attempted further to politicize L.A.’s no-cash bail policy / Special Directive 20-07 (“Studies show that prosecution of the offenses driving the bulk of misdemeanor cases have minimal, or even negative, long-term impacts on public safety.”) as many corporations have. Even though, according to LAPD data, property crime is down.  

Guerrero continued saying, “These individuals are generally caught and released back onto the streets in less than 24 hours. ​​Even with all the arrests made, the no-cash bail policy and extended timeframe for suspects to appear in court is causing re-victimization to Union Pacific by these same criminals.”  Community activists think otherwise, supporting the DA’s no-cash bail policy, stressing that further criminalizing people of lower socioeconomic status for non-violent crimes isn’t a real solution. 

Gasćon’s office responded with a public statement saying, “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.” 

A connection worth questioning can be found with the controversy surrounding Emanuel Padilla. Padilla is a protester who was accused of dragging a Sheriff’s barricade (with ill intentions) towards Union Pacific-owned tracks near the Compton Sheriff’s station in November of 2020. 

Padilla was initially charged with unlawful obstruction of a railroad track and a felony count of train wrecking, which carries a potential life sentence. Jackie Lacy, Gasćon’s predecessor, wanted to prosecute.

On his second day on the job, the newly appointed Gasćon had Padilla’s charges dismissed, citing inconsistencies in the video evidence of the incident, noting that the facts didn’t align with the Sheriff’s reports’ descriptions. 

Union Pacific has gone on record to state that they're working with clients to enhance security around the area, through the use of drones, additional agents, specialized fencing, and trespass-detection systems. The Chief of the Union Pacific police department is scheduled to meet with LAPD officials later this week. 

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