An anti-cargo-theft operation in Chicago’s South Side conducted jointly by the Norfolk Southern Police Department and the Chicago Police Department sparked outrage in the community.
In a joint effort with the Chicago Police Department dubbed “Operation Trailer Trap,” an unmarked trailer loaded with sneakers and other merchandise was left parked near 59th Place and Princeton Avenue in the city’s South Side Englewood neighborhood as a lure for potential thieves.
Video footage, shot by Chicago resident Charles McKenzie (described by the Chicago Tribune as a “community activist”) of the police activity following the arrest of three adults who had allegedly broken into the trailer, went viral. McKenzie’s video shows police officers arresting a man after he allegedly broke into the truck. Off-camera people whose voices were captured in the video can be heard complaining that the operation was entrapment, and targeted children.
McKenzie’s video, which had nearly 700,000 views, also contains the following written commentary: “The police parked a truck with boxes of Nike shoes infront of kids lifted up and when people hop in the truck the police hopping out on them smh check on your people share this”
The police operation was condemned by, among others, the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois.
NS issued the following statement in response:
“Norfolk Southern railroad police last week conducted a surveillance operation to target individuals who have been breaking into freight containers at NS rail yards and nearby areas in South Side Chicago.
“ There has been a lot of misinformation circulating online. Youths were neither targeted nor arrested. The three individuals apprehended ranged in age from 21 to 59. The truck trailer was not parked next to a basketball court. It was unmarked, it was locked, 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.
“Freight theft specifically in this area has been increasing as the volume of rail traffic moving through the city of Chicago also increased. All too frequently, individuals break into parked freight containers in the Chicago area, stealing a range of consumer goods—at times this included 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.
“These same surveillance techniques are used by local, state and federal officials, national retailers and large logistics companies across the U.S. to disrupt criminal activity related to freight theft.”
The Chicago Tribune published an editorial condemning the operation, which it called “a bad move.”
Herbert Smith, manager of community and legislative relations in Illinois, Iowa and Michigan for Norfolk Southern, in a letter to the newspaper expressed regret in response to the Chicago Tribune editorial and said the railroad would not use the tactic in the future. But he added that residents needed to know about ongoing thefts of cargo from parked and locked containers and trailers in the area, including stolen guns and ammunition.
“At the time, local residents and officials told us we needed to do more to prevent this, and we have responded,” Smith wrote. “Norfolk Southern, in coordination with local, state and federal officials, employs a wide range of preventative and surveillance methods (seen and unseen) to deter crime. We regularly change and improve enforcement tools, but unfortunately thefts continue.”
He added the FBI estimates that theft of freight totals more than $27 million a year, and that the railroad wants to discuss with local officials “how to best prevent freight theft, improve community relations and rebuild mutual trust.”
Authorities dropped felony theft charges against three adults arrested in the operation, while one defendant faces a misdemeanor assault charge.
Click below to view actual NS Police Department surveillance video footage.