CHICAGO -- Chicago streets are marked with the remnants of gun violence.
In a continuing look at how illegal guns are flowing into Chicago, WGN Investigates shows that modern day train robberies are bringing hundreds of guns to our city.
The train robberies of the past are legendary, glorified in the movies. There are stories of shoot outs and explosions. Unfortunately, it hasn’t stayed in the past. Today, train robberies are still happening, perhaps with less drama, but every bit as serious. The weapon of choice is a simple bolt cutter while a train sits hidden in the weeds waiting to pass through some of Chicago’s roughest neighborhoods.
It is a slow and meandering path to pass through the city, sometimes taking a full day to move through, says Senator Emil Jones III. During some of that time Jones says, “Trains are sitting in high-crime neighborhoods. It’s just a potential target to get broken into.”
Thefts are happening. A lot - hundreds of times. WGN Investigates requested five years of Chicago Police records. What we found is that trains have been hit more than 400 times over that period. The loot hidden behind the doors could be anything from tennis shoes to serious firepower including ammo and guns. That immediately catches the attention of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives – ATF.
The Special Agent in Charge in Chicago Jeffrey Magee says, “Some of the people who stole the guns could be looking for anything. They could be looking for computers, furs, coats, all of that.” But he adds, ominously, “It just so happened one car had firearms in it. You don’t know, the cars are not marked with firearms.”
Thieves stole guns from trains in Chicago at least four times that we know of. In December, 2009, 319 guns were taken from 116th and Torrence. In May 2014, 13 guns were stolen from 61st and Lafayette.
In April 2015, a cargo train containing firearms from the Ruger factory in New Hampshire was en route to Spokane, Washington. It parked overnight at a rail yard in South Chicago. ATF didn’t get involved in the case until the train stopped in Spokane.
According to Magee, “Any firearms through inter-state that are stolen we get involved in that. So we’re working jointly with the police department now on that.”
A month later, Chicago Police arrested two other guys trying to steal from the railcars. The tip led to a crew using names like Manki, Rat, and A-dog.
In court, the story came out. One night, in a twist of fate, two gangs ended up at the same boxcar. They joined forces to grab some loot. Using bolt cutter the crooks hit the motherlode. There were so many weapons they could only take a third of the shipment – 111 guns.
As for the guns, only 16 or so have been recovered. The rest, who knows, probably on the streets of Chicago.
Magee adds, “So the manufacturer is shipping the firearms via train or airline so through that process before it even gets to the retailer there is a breakdown right now in security to us.”
And yes, it happened again in September when 33 more guns were taken from boxcars.
Think about this. It’s a sort of gun rabbit-hole. It’s not the shippers fault. It’s not the dealers’, he never got the guns. The railroads are victims of a crime. All that’s left is to wrangle out the insurance.
Norfolk Southern says it’s working with the Chicago Police and ATF to deal thefts. It added its own police patrol monitors the trains 24/7 to deter trespassing and criminal activity.
A spokesman for the rail industry says security and safety throughout the nation’s rail industry are ongoing priorities. He says the close collaboration with law enforcement agencies is exceptional.
Still, there’s no regulation in place to require extra security or even that the railroads notify police when guns are passing through. State Senator Jones says he’s proposing legislation to change the rules. According to Jones, “When we ship our military supplies across country the federal government provides armed security guards to watch the cargo. In some sense I think we need to do the same thing for guns. Or at least require manufacturer to do that for guns shipped over trains.”
Jones says, even a phone call to provide a heads up that guns are passing through Chicago would be helpful. He says he made that suggestion to Norfolk.
“I did mention that to Norfolk that you should reach out to the city of Chicago and let them know, ‘Hey train A & B is coming in the night on these tracks in this particular area.’ In that way it would alert law enforcement because they are alerting police every day out in the streets of what to look out for. And I think this would be a great way to work with the city of Chicago to prevent this from happening again.”
The rail industry won’t discuss their security measures. You can view their entire statement below.
The Association of American Railroads released a statement to WGN News saying:
Security and safety throughout the nation’s rail industry are ongoing priorities with a unified security plan providing the framework for cooperation among railroads with government law enforcement agencies. The reporting of incidents and sharing of security information enable monitoring for trends or emerging concerns in types of activity and in geographic areas.
Particularly emphasized are security training and awareness initiatives with employees, focused on informed vigilance and effective reporting; intelligence and security information sharing with federal law enforcement, security, and intelligence agencies; cooperation across railroads and with local and state law enforcement agencies; and recurring exercises to test security plans and procedures.
Cooperation in assessing threats and investigating incidents is strong and the close collaboration among railroads, Chicago police, FBI, ATF and other local law enforcement agencies is exceptional. One example of this close collaboration is with the FBI’s Rail Security Program, with Rail Liaison Agents assigned in field offices nationally, including the Chicago area, that specialize in investigations and information sharing with railroad police and local and state police.