ATS tackles cargo theft issue with IP cameras
Cargo theft might be the perfect crime: ample opportunity, desirable merchandise and limited police resources to get in the way.
By Neil Sutton
The problem of cargo theft is almost unfathomably huge, says Mario
Possamai, a Toronto-based security consultant who has made a study of
the phenomenon. Back in 2003, he estimated that it could be responsible
for as much as $60 billion in losses in the U.S. alone, but it’s hard
to make an accurate assessment.
“No one knows how big it is. That’s part of the problem,” he says.
“There’s no central records keeping, no tracking of it. Until you have
an ability to actually measure the problem, you don’t how effective
what you’re doing really is.”
The police are doing what they can, but it’s not a high priority, says
Possamai. There’s relatively low incidence of violence associated with
cargo theft, so it tends to get put on the back burner. And who can
“Are they going to put officers in high-crime areas to protect the
public or are they going to try to do some work on cargo crime? They’d
like to do it all, but I think they’d probably get more support from
the community if they focused on street crime and violence.”
Calls to the Peel Regional Police requesting comment were not returned.
Cargo crime is typically carried out by very organized people, says
Possamai. It’s worth a lot of money so it’s worth doing it right. Theft
gangs will go city to city to follow important loads and will even hire
expert drivers to transport lucrative cargo from one end of the country
to the other if a buyer can be lined up.
John Burdett, corporate loss prevention manager, for Toronto-based
Andlauer Transportation Services (ATS), is familiar with the problem.
Prior to joining ATS, Burdett worked for a large, well-known freight
and shipping company where they had “significant issues” with theft.
It’s typically the white label, independent cargo companies that get
hit the worst because they’re vulnerable, but “everybody has an issue
with this. They just don’t advertise it.”
When Burdett joined ATS in 2005, he quickly set to updating the
company’s cameras, replacing analogue models with Axis IP cameras. The
cameras act as a theft deterrent, but serve other practical purposes,
like monitoring for employee health and safety.
“We use them for a variety of purposes here, but basically by having
almost full coverage of our warehouses, we get visibility of what’s
going on,” he says. “Even if there’s no security person present, we can
still go back and troubleshoot or find root causes to certain issues —
whether they be operational or criminal. We’ve had success in
everything from workplace accident investigations to thefts and
Burdett has been updating cameras steadily for the last four years:
replacing analogue cameras with IP when they wear out and in some cases
doing complete installs for high-priority, larger locations.
Of the 24 cargo facilities that ATS operates, seven have been
completely moved over to IP. Burdett envisions that most will
eventually be migrated to IP, save perhaps the small facilities (15,000
sq. ft.) where analogue is still sufficient to cover the area.
“By putting in IP cameras, it gave us a lot more flexibility and
scalability. As well, the IP cameras give us far higher resolutions,
which is key when you’re doing investigations on small parcels.
“On analogue cameras, they’re far harder to see, unless you have many
more cameras covering smaller areas. We can cover a larger area with an
IP camera and get greater detail at the same time — which cuts down on
the time we take with our investigations.
“I’d still like to go over to IP (completely), but you have to think
about what your bandwidth considerations are — the remoteness of the
place,” he says. The availability of technical know-how in the area to
manage cameras on an ongoing basis must also be considered.
The presence of cameras acts as a deterrent to would be thieves and provides some peace of mind, says Burdett.
“We offer ourselves to be a low-theft kind of carrier. This is one of the steps to keep it low.”
The cameras help solidify ATS as a reliable, safe carrier, but they can also help save the company millions by averting theft.
There’s a tendency to assume that theft of retail goods and a
victimless crime — no one’s getting hurt, big companies can afford to
take the hit, and insurance will cover the worst of it anyway.
Not so, says Burdett. The premiums for insuring shipments can run into
hundreds of thousands of dollars. Any stolen merchandise could be
“It is a huge cost to your business to lose a trailer,” he says — plus
there’s the added complications associated with explaining the incident
to the insurance company — “that you weren’t negligent, that this was
beyond your control and reasonable foresight.”
Better to be safe and secure, he says. “Part of the service that we
supply is our security and our commitment to security for those
products traveling through our supply chain.”
A lot of what ATS ships tends to be attractive to thieves, he says.
“We’re a premium carrier for freight, so we deal with a lot of high end
items that are small in size ”“ everything from pharmaceuticals to
electronics, high end clothing, entertainment products like DVDs and
CDs. It’s extremely streetable stuff.”
Small, high value items tend to be the obvious targets, adds Possamai — iPods, cell phones, but “it could be anything.
“You may have somebody who can move a lot of winter tires. If someone
hears you’ve got a truck load of winter tires being shipped somewhere
well, bang, you’ve got demand meeting supply.”
The problem of cargo theft is likely worse, given the current
recession. More people than just the thieves are involved, says
Possamai — everyone who turns a blind eye as to the origins of their
merchandise is complicit. A lot of it ends up at flea markets, but it
could just as easily be moved down to South America and sold cheap
“None of this would be happening if there wasn’t demand for it,” he
says. “If the middle men couldn’t sell this to somebody, the whole
process would not be going on.”
Possamai applauds companies like ATS that are willing to take positive steps to combat theft.
“I think it makes a lot of sense — CCTV, access control, employee
monitoring — but trucks have to go somewhere. They can’t stay in a
protective cocoon all the time.”
Cargo theft gangs have even been known to follow a truck to a truck
stop, wait till the driver goes inside for a bite to eat, then drive
off with the trailer.
“Crime is like a balloon: you squeeze it one place, it’ll pop up somewhere else.”
Burdett recognizes that it’s a huge issue for the industry struggle,
but people with newer technology “have more success deterring or at
least investigating the thefts.”
Burdett is currently using motion detection software but he says more advanced analytics are under consideration.
“A company’s commitment to security can be shown in the equipment that they’re using and how it’s set up.”