Guns stolen from rail cars spark LAPD concern

Debris is shown strewn across railroad tracks.
Debris is shown strewn across railroad tracks passing through Lincoln Heights on Jan. 14, reportedly left from thieves targeting box cars.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Guns are among the items that have been stolen from cargo containers on railroad tracks in Lincoln Heights, Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore said Monday.

“People were ... breaking into these containers and stealing firearms, tens of firearms,” Moore told the Police Commission. “That gave us the great concern as a source again of further violence in the city as people were capitalizing on the transport of these containers with having little or no policing or security services there.”

Moore said that on Thursday, the day Gov. Gavin Newsom showed up to help bag debris and decry the thefts, the LAPD arrested six people who had been under surveillance for crimes related to the train break-ins.


The issue gained national attention earlier this month as images of the debris left on the Union Pacific tracks by thieves went viral. But that did not stop the stealing, Moore said.

“Despite all the attention brought to this, and despite the ongoing efforts by Union Pacific to solve some additional security elements, we still have people that are still drawn to this location,” he said.

LAPD Deputy Chief Al Labrada, who commands the Central Bureau, which includes the Lincoln Heights railroad tracks, said the department has recovered “numerous guns” from people who said the weapons were taken from box cars in the area. Labrada said it was that revelation that led the department to become much more alarmed about the thefts from the rail cars. He said he did not have precise numbers at hand.

Union Pacific runs about 275 miles of tracks in Los Angeles County, where since December 2020 an average of 90 containers a day have been burglarized, according to the company. Most of those have occurred in two rail yards, including the one in Lincoln Heights.

Robynn Tysver, a spokeswoman for the 160-year-old railroad, said Union Pacific has brought in dozens of special agents to help and “will continue to monitor and clean up the tracks.” She declined to comment on the stealing of firearms from the containers.

The thefts set off a volley of accusations last week between Union Pacific and Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. George Gascón.


The crush of cargo at the ports of L.A. and Long Beach, plus limited security on rail lines, helped make cargo trains vulnerable to theft, expert say.

Jan. 20, 2022

After the railroad company said the theft problem was made worse by Gascón’s approach to prosecuting criminal offenders, the district attorney chastised Union Pacific for having poor security.

“It is very telling that other major railroad operations in the area are not facing the same level of theft at their facilities as UP,” Gascón said in a letter Friday. “We can ensure that appropriate cases are filed and prosecuted; however, my office is not tasked with keeping your sites secure and the district attorney alone cannot solve the major issues facing your organization.”

Gascón said that since 2019, law enforcement agencies have presented 181 cases to the D.A.’s office for prosecution, including 47 last year. In about half of the 2021 cases, his office filed felony or misdemeanor charges of burglary, theft and receiving of stolen property. The rest were declined either due to lack of evidence or because the offenses involved low-level drug possession or homelessness.

According to Moore, Union Pacific has agreed to more regular cleanings of the area, but the fact that the debris was left for so long created a “free-for-all,” he said.

He said the LAPD is working with the Department of Transportation on physical improvements to the Lincoln Heights site that would deter would-be rail burglars.