Saturday, December 26, 2009

Creating 'task force' won't automatically solve communications issues on big-rig theft

The Texas Tribune's Reeve Hamilton recently published a feature reporting that:
Texas has the worst rates of cargo and heavy equipment theft — thieves rolling away with anything from semi-trailer trucks full of electronics to a backhoe on a flatbed — in the country. It also has the worst track record of recovering stolen heavy equipment. At 16 percent, its rate of recovery falls five percentage points below the national average.

Despite this, it is the only state reporting significant cargo thefts without an organized law enforcement task force addressing the issue.
With Texas' central location as a North American transportation hub, the state faces unique challenges regarding commercial vehicle theft and there's no doubt the problem deserves concerted focus. (For that reason, it may not be fair or useful to compare Texas' data to, say, New Hampshire's or Ohio's.) But it overstates the case to say there's no "organized law enforcement task force addressing the issue," it's just being addressed locally and regionally instead of statewide. A bigger issue has been that officers staffing such investigations don't always use good strategies, sound approaches, or competent officers capable of working openly and honestly across agencies.

In 2008, Dallas Sheriff's deputies with the North Texas Auto Theft Task Fore were investigating big-rig thefts and actually, knowingly allowed one of their informants to participate in an armed robbery in the next county which they chose not to monitor or prevent. Then the deputies failed to cooperate with Dallas PD's commercial auto theft unit or the Ellis County DA when they investigated the crime.

That episode makes me think the problem isn't that nobody is focused on commercial vehicle theft, particularly in North Texas where Hamilton said the problem is greatest, but that detectives are more focused on turf and protecting their informants than solving the problem. If Dallas deputies wouldn't share information through their regional task force, I don't know what would make them do so with a statewide entity.

Perhaps a new statewide task force would assist in breaking down these kinds of turf-driven communication barriers, which would be a plus. OTOH, a new entity fighting over turf could exacerbate the problem. Quien sabe? Better strategies may be just as or more necessary, even, than more manpower. Either way, it's not the case that without a new, million-dollar task force nobody's focused on these crimes.

1 comment:

Donald said...

I was surprised when there was no mention of DPS in that article, until reading some interesting comments made about it on the Troopers Association's web site. DPS leadership seems to have other priorities.