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Train cargo thefts are 'a threat to our local economy,' Los Angeles City councilmember says

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Los Angeles City Councilmember Joe Buscaino joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss the Union Pacific rail theft crisis, the threat such a heist imposes on the goods movement industry, a larger police presence, and the banning of new oil and gas wells.

Video Transcript

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: With more on this, we are joined by LA City Council member Joe Buscaino and Yahoo Finance's Dani Romero. Dani.

DANI ROMERO: Thanks so much. Thanks so much, Joe Buscaino, for joining us. Let's talk about the recent uptick in cargo thefts. Many have seen those images of empty containers just littered across Union Pacific's train tracks. Has it been this bad before? And what is the solution here?

JOE BUSCAINO: Never seen anything like this. We've had issues with UP in Watts community, which I represent, and we've held them accountable for a nuisance there in Watts. And they have been responsive since this incident in Watts, but even more so now. We're working with UP, identifying the issue that we have nothing but brazen acts of theft in public and during broad daylight. 100%-- 160% increase in thefts along the railways and 90 containers being compromised today, costing UP $5 million.

But we're here in the city of Los Angeles, in the county that we're seeing more chaos with fewer consequences for those who are committing these acts. And as a local elected official representing the Port of Los Angeles, whenever there's a threat to divert cargo away from this region, it's a threat to our local economy.

DANI ROMERO: Yeah, Joe, let's talk about that. So I read the district attorney's letter, and there seems to be some finger-pointing following that, following the district attorney's letter in response to Union Pacific's letter, where the DA details that the railroad doesn't really do enough to ensure their trains are adequately locked or protected. We had Union Pacific CEO on our show discussing different methods on how they're protecting their cargo, such as surveillance drones patrolling the area, as well as some fencing. What is your response to the DA's letter? And doesn't it come down to how these cases are prosecuted?

JOE BUSCAINO: It's both. As a former LAPD officer serving a blessed 15 years here, I can tell you, it's all about prevention, but it's also about holding people accountable. And whether it's installing heavy duty locks or when someone is caught by committing the theft, they need to be prosecuted. And this is why, you know, like you mentioned, a lot of finger pointing, and I'm tired of it. I'm tired of the letters being sent to various departments and entities.

So let's get everyone at the table. And this is what my motion will do, initiating an investigation of how we're handling the package thefts. And in the spirit of collaboration, not only holding UP accountable for bringing more police services to prevent these crimes, but also holding the prosecutors accountable for prosecuting these crimes as well. I can tell you, whenever you have more police presence, you'll see a reduction in these types of thefts.

DANI ROMERO: OK, well, let's-- I want to bounce off of that because like you said, larger police presence will help. But just last year, LAPD Chief Moore said that he is shorthanded about 300 officers. So do we really have the resources to task that area? And also COVID, too. That implicates as well the officers.

JOE BUSCAINO: Yeah, and this is where technology comes into play. I can tell you, in talking to Adrian Guerrero with UP, they have brought in rail officers from their UP police force from other parts of the country. And even then, we're saying if that's-- if they're short on bringing more UP police officers, let's contract with LAPD.

But also the technology piece-- the drones that are being deployed and using geofencing to prevent these crime from occurring in the first place. I can tell you, there's nothing like criminals out there who are countering this-- the drone deployment by knocking them down or shooting them down from what I'm hearing from folks on the ground here in Los Angeles. Again, this needs to stop. This is an embarrassment to our city and our county. This has made national news. And as a representative of the Port of Los Angeles, it's a threat to our local economy with the threats of diverting this cargo.

DANI ROMERO: Yeah, and I want to shift gears really quick because LA City Council this Wednesday voted to ban on new oil and gas wells, as well as phase out some of those wells over a period of five years. And that follows after decades of residents complaining about those health problems living near those drill sites. Why did it take so long?

JOE BUSCAINO: Well, I think when you're dealing with legal aspects of those individuals who own the well sites, we wanted to make sure that it was a just transition and follow the lead of our neighboring city, Culver City. But as a representative of Wilmington-- I represent that neighborhood that has a disproportionate amount of oil well sites-- we had to act and do so in a way that it's just and it's comprehensive. And this first act that we agreed on Wednesday is a way forward to not only eliminate existing oil well sites, drill sites, but also prevent new ones from coming into the city.

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