- The Washington Times - Friday, January 21, 2022

California Gov. Gavin Newsom has apologized for referring to the criminals looting packages from Union Pacific freight trains as “gang” members.

“This is not one-off. This is organized theft,” Mr. Newsom said during a news conference at the Union Pacific Railroad tracks. “These are organized gangs of people that are coming out.”

Then he quickly corrected himself: “Forgive me for saying ‘gangs,’ that’s not a pejorative. They’re organized groups of folks that move from site to site.”

The governor said, “When there’s more attention, a bright light on one site, they move to the next site. While these folks are arrested as if they’re individuals that are not connected to the whole, and we need to change that.”

The Washington Times sent an inquiry to Mr. Newsom’s office and did not immediately hear back. The thefts happened at a time when California law enforcement is on high alert for organized retail theft of both luxury and big-box chain stores, including smash-and-grab robberies at high-end stores in Los Angeles.

State officials and the Department of Transportation say they are acting now after weeks of trains’ cargo containers being raided in Los Angeles during station stops. The thieves grab the contents of packages and throw the empty boxes and envelopes onto the tracks causing a mountainous pileup of debris.

“A lot of this stuff ends up on platforms you shop on,” Mr. Newsom said Thursday. “I promise you, all of you — some of you have bought some of this stuff that was not in those boxes because they ended up on some online platform at a remarkably discounted price.”

He said more than $2 million in items have been recovered so far.

Union Pacific attempted to seek help from L.A. County District Attorney George Gascon in December, asking for tougher prosecutions against the train thieves and suggesting that no-bail policy ceases for certain defendants.

“These individuals are generally caught and released back onto the streets in less than twenty-four hours. Criminals boast to our officers that charges will be pled down to simple trespassing — which bears no serious consequence,” the letter said, citing a 160% increase in theft.

Although a statewide policy of $0 bail for misdemeanors and lower-level felonies halted in 2020, the LA County Superior Court system kept the policy in place.

Although Union Pacific will consider ceasing operations in L.A. County if the situation does not improve, a spokeswoman told The Washington Times, that option is “unlikely” now.

“We are grateful to our partners, including the Governor of California, law enforcement agencies including [police, the sheriff’s office and highway patrol], and our customers including UPS, that are standing with us,” said a UP spokeswoman. “We’ve increased the number of special agents, drones, specialized fencing, and trespass detection systems to combat this criminal activity.”

Eighteen House Republican lawmakers sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick B. Garland Thursday, calling on him to “prosecute and hold the perpetrators of these crimes accountable.”

• Kerry Picket can be reached at kpicket@washingtontimes.com.

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