CHICAGO (CBS) — A major railroad is fighting back against accusations it’s trying to lure people into stealing goods from freight cars.
Norfolk Southern officials said they are using so-called “bait trucks” to stop thefts, but insisted it’s not as bad as it’s being portrayed.
The railroad left a trailer truck full of goods sitting under a bridge in Englewood earlier this month.
Norfolk southern said surveillance video shows people breaking into it, and – within a minute – removing boxes.
Activist Charles McKenzie posted two videos of a bait truck on Facebook earlier this month. He said a truck was parked next to a basketball court frequently used by young residents in the largely African-American neighborhood.
Railroad officials insisted they were not targeting young people, and the truck was not placed next to a basketball court. They also said the goods inside were not visible from outside the truck, contrary to claims online.
“It was unmarked, it was locked securely, and its contents were invisible to passersby. The suspects saw a parked, unmarked trailer and then proceeded to cut open the safety seal with box cutters, broke into the back of the trailer and only then did they find retail shoes in unmarked brown boxes, previously secured and hidden inside,” Norfolk Southern spokeswoman Susan Terpay said.
Three people were arrested in a joint operation by Norfolk Southern Railroad police and Chicago police. They were between the ages of 21 and 59.
A Chicago Police Department spokesperson said officers were only assisting Norfolk Southern with their investigation.
The ACLU and community members said the use of the bait truck is a dirty trick. The ACLU said it surely won’t help relations between the community and police.
Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) agreed.
“This bait truck operation is an unacceptable and inappropriate use of police resources,” he stated in a xxx. “This initiative serves only to undermine already fragile efforts to build trust between law enforcement and the community.”
Norfolk Southern defended its tactics, and said thefts from freight trains have increased as more railroad traffic moves through Chicago.
“In the recent past, individuals broke into parked freight containers in the Chicago area, stealing a range of consumer goods, to include guns and ammunition in transit. Norfolk Southern has the responsibility to ensure the freight we are transporting is safely delivered and does not pose a risk to the communities in which we operate. This week’s police operation was intended to directly combat such unacceptable thefts,” Terpay said.
The railroad said the same tactics are used by many law enforcement agencies, national retailers, and shipping companies to disrupt freight thefts.