Editors note the follow article was published in dailybreeze.com
By Phillip Zonkel Staff Writer
DOWNEY – A criminal enterprise of plastic bandits has been robbing Rockview Farms dairy.
Thieves have been stealing about 1,100 of the company’s plastic milk crates every day from grocery store loading docks or distribution warehouses, said Bill Kroese, Rockview’s director of safety and loss prevention.
The thefts cost the company about $1.4 million a year and make up about 4.5 percent of the 24,000 crates it uses daily.
The stolen crates are redeemed for cash, about 15 cents a pound, at recycling centers or sold to black market grinders and bailers who ship the pellets out of the country to plastic manufacturers, who make new crates and sell them to the businesses from which they were stolen, according to law enforcement and industry experts.
“To the average person, this crime is hard to imagine,” Kroese said. “If I didn’t work here, I wouldn’t believe it either.”
Rockview isn’t the only company being targeted in the area.
As of yet, no group or agency tracks the loss of stolen high-density plastic crates and pallets, which are used by bakery and beverage companies, but experts estimate the nationwide loss to businesses at $500 million.
Los Angeles law enforcement officials are trying to fight back.
Last fall, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department formed what is believed to be the nation’s only team to fight industrial plastic thefts. The five-member Industrial Plastics Task Force is funded
by the City of Industry, where many of the victimized businesses are located.
“This is pretty rampant. The numbers and figures are mind-boggling,” said Sgt. Nabeel Mitry, who heads the task force at the sheriff’s Industry Station.
“It’s more profitable than selling drugs, and you don’t have to watch your back when you’re doing it.
“You can do it in plain sight, day or night,” Mitry said.
He said the crime can appear to onlookers, including law enforcement, that it is just workers doing their job.
“If you didn’t know what you were looking at, you wouldn’t know what’s going on,” Mitry said.
“Law enforcement agencies are unaware of this problem,” he added. “It’s not stolen cars. It’s a stolen pallet. It’s not a sexy crime.”
The task force found $2 million in stolen pallets at a Compton warehouse last fall. The underground operation was capable of grinding 20,000 pounds of plastic a day, Mitry said.
“And these were not a manufacturer (using plastic), but rather a few people running a small warehouse,” he said.
In the past year, the team has recovered more than $6 million in stolen plastic and sent 47 criminal cases to prosecutors. More than 50 people were charged with possessing stolen property and most have pleaded guilty, Mitry said.
Many of the thefts could be prevented, said Joseph Harrington, a business consultant who worked with Rockview Farms on the issue.
“These businesses need to take ownership of the crates and pallets. They are valuable assets to the company,” Harrington said. “They track each loaf of bread or gallon of milk. Why not track each crate? Otherwise they are losing money.”
Rockview Farms took Harrington’s advice and began tracking crates, as well as offering rebates to its retail store customers who help return crates.
The incentives lowered the company’s losses, Kroese said.
Another idea is placing the crates and pallets in a secure area, Mitry said.
“You can’t stop all the thefts, but 50 percent might be stopped,” he said. “What’s easier to steal, a car with its doors opened or one that’s locked?”
“But the ultimate victim is the consumer,” Mitry said. “These business make up the loss by passing it along to the consumer.”
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