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Plastics theft task force running out of funding

By: Roger Renstrom

July 23, 2013

A focused Southern California effort to stem theft of trademarked plastic pallets, milk crates and collapsible totes appears ready to grind to a halt for lack of private and public funding.

Over 23 months, the plastic industrial theft task force of the Los Angeles County sheriff’s department has recovered and returned products valued at nearly $7.4 million, made 74 arrests and shut down 30 illegal polymer storage and granulation sites. Investigations and seizures disrupted numerous organized theft rings.

Sgt. Nabeel Mitry, task force coordinator, gave an example of the ripple effect. “If we bust an illegal grinding operation, that may involve intact product with a value of $100,000. That product would have been ground today and replaced by another $100,000 of product tomorrow.”

With each bust, “we take down a substantial ongoing operation,” Mitry told Plastics News.

Task force funding from the City of Industry, however, is scheduled to end July 31.

“Please continue to thank the [city officials] for their unprecedented support and funding and in leading the way,” Mitry said in a message to interested individuals. “You can’t thank them enough.”

The city council authorized spending $1.2 million for the task force beginning in September 2011. An extension added about $300,000 to carry the program to the end of July, one month into the city’s next fiscal year. The task force operates from a sheriff’s station in City of Industry and, monthly, has costs of about $60,000.

“My hope was to get funded by various entities and continue,” Mitry said. “I would have liked to see funding from businesses. They should be motivated to see the program continue.”

The task force has forwarded cases involving theft and possession of stolen property to prosecutors’ offices in Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino and Orange counties with achievement of felony filings in 95 percent of the cases.

As a measurement of effort expended, the task force of five sheriff’s investigators and a postal inspector conducted 26 separate investigations during June.

Mitry and others have explained the value of the task force’s program to many of the private businesses that have recovered product. Several corporations contributed about $36,000 in 2012, but none has offered an ongoing stream of revenue.

Mitry has appealed to top administrators in Sheriff Lee Baca’s office, municipal members of the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments and other officials such as U.S. Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-El Monte) and California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris. None has assured new funding.

“My fear is that it will return to what it was” without the deterrence of the task force, Mitry said. “We don’t know how many people [who were] involved in the thefts have stopped. It is probably a lot more than what we caught.”