LOS ANGELES — Gov. Gavin Newsom vowed to crack down on the thieves raiding California cargo trains in recent weeks, but he also made a stir with his remarks as he surveyed the scene in Los Angeles Thursday.
Newsom was holding a news conference after helping crews with cleanup along the tracks northeast of downtown L.A. Before that day’s efforts, the area was littered with discarded merchandise and packaging. Union Pacific officials say crooks are breaking into shipping containers and stealing packages in broad daylight, leaving behind whatever they don’t want or can’t carry. According to the company, there’s been a 160% increase in such rail crimes.
The thefts have generated significant media coverage and calls for better security on the tracks. Newsom pledged Thursday to devote more state resources, including California Highway Patrol officers, to stopping the break-ins. But the appearance was quick to generate criticism from the governor’s rivals, especially surrounding a comment he made about the scene there.
“I’m asking myself, what the hell is going on?” the governor said. “It looked like a third world country, these images, the drone images that were on the nightly news.”
That comment prompted a chorus of criticism from state Republicans, who often characterize the governor and his policies as too soft on crime.
“Look in the mirror Gavin,” former San Diego mayor and gubernatorial candidate Kevin Faulconer wrote on Twitter, accompanying the quote. San Diego County Supervisor Jim Desmond also shared a tweet with the quote, along with a “facepalm” emoji.
The governor was criticized by others for his choice of words. “Hello, @GavinNewsom: the term “Third world country” was replaced by “developing nation” like, 25 years ago,” veteran reporter Doug Sovern wrote.
FOX 5 reached out to the governor’s office for any further comment on the remark but did not hear back.
Newsom has defended his policies on crime in the state and said that more funding for the state’s Organized Retail Theft Task Force will help put an end to the train thefts. The state is adding CHP patrols along the railroad to supplement Union Pacific’s own police force and security measures.
The governor also called Thursday for prosecuting thieves who target trains under organized crime laws, which can carry harsher penalties. It wasn’t immediately clear how common that practice would become.
“We make charging decisions based on the evidence,” Alex Bastian, an adviser to L.A. County District Attorney George Gascón, told the Associated Press. “Our office takes Union Pacific’s concerns seriously and hopes to discuss this issue more in the coming weeks.”
The governor asked consumers to do their part by using reputable resellers and being skeptical of items listed online for prices that are too good to be true. “A lot of this stuff ends up on platforms you shop on,” Newsom said, referring to stolen goods.
A recent study by the Public Policy Institute of California found that the state’s property and violent crime rates have bounced back from pandemic lows, but that they remain around the level of 2019. Crime in the state remains considerably lower than the heights of the 1990s. Nevertheless, it figures to remain a political lightning rod in the run-up to Newsom’s 2022 re-election bid.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.