Investigators wearing bulletproof vests sit in unmarked cars outside a Southern California recycling center, swapping license plate details over two-way radio before dawn.
A truck emerges, and they follow, hoping to learn where drivers pick up what to many looks like trash but turns out to be treasure: cardboard.
“It’s big, big money — for somebody,” said Steve Rivera, a senior investigator with the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s office who has been conducting sunrise surveillance to track, educate and cite the culprits. “People don’t recognize the fact that it’s actually theft.”
The crackdown in gritty, industrial suburbs east of Los Angeles aims to put a stop to a long-running practice that surges with cardboard prices and wallops trash company revenue — and could eventually push up trash collection rates for homeowners and shopkeepers.