In the last four years, the metro Atlanta area has seen an uptick in smash and grab theft, resulting in a loss of almost $2 million for area retailers. If you’re not familiar with the term smash-and-grab, these incidents include the breaking or smashing of a barrier – like a door or window – to gain entrance into retail establishments. In the case of Atlanta, the most popular smash and grab technique is driving a vehicle through building doors – not your typical rock-through-the-glass-window burglary.
John Heavener, President of the Georgia Retail Association, has played an integral role in bringing the Atlanta retail community together to fight the issue through community education and legislative action. In fact, through the combined efforts of area retailers organized by GRA, the Georgia State Legislature passed a smash-and-grab bill in March which designates the act as a felony. In a recent Q&A, John talks about the importance of this new legislation and outlines how the economy has impacted retailers in Georgia. Conveniently, John was also able to provide some great local insights on where to dine and what to see for the thousands of LP executives who will descend on his home turf later this month.
The Georgia State Legislature recently passed a smash and grab bill. Talk about that.
We have had as many as four smash and grab incidents in a single weekend, and in all we have had more than 200 incidents. Retailers have added extra security and have even gone to the expense of installing roll-down security gates, only to have those pulled out by gang members. The legislation will allow police and prosecutors to deal with this crime wave.
Unfortunately, some of the gang members have been juveniles, so we needed to get to the heart of the problem by making it tougher on adults who recruit juveniles into felonious activities. Now, we can prosecute after the first incident of juvenile recruitment and get juvenile offenders into a rehabilitation program.
Do you have any tips for helping retailers combat smash and grab theft?
The Georgia Retail Association helped retailers combat smash and grab thefts by bringing them together with police agencies and prosecutors to discuss the depth and breadth of the problem and to work on solutions together. Retailers have installed security cameras, reinforced doors, and even installed expensive pull-down security gates. While all of these steps helped, it was coming together with a unity of purpose and involving all of the right players that made the passing of legislation possible.
NRF and LERPnet were true partners in this effort. Not only did Angelica Rodriguez come to the organizational meeting, but her statistics helped keep the engine fueled with hard facts and real examples of how the crime wave was destroying retail establishments. Even with our best efforts to bring attention to this issue, a number of small retailers, hit multiple times, were forced to close their doors because of this criminal activity.
What advice can you give other state associations on creating these types of partnerships?
My advice is to form a coalition. GRA’s coalition, The Coalition on Smash and Grab Thefts, was quickly owned by all participants.
How has the economy impacted retail in the state of Georgia?
During the last 18 months, Georgia’s economy has been struggling. Sales tax and payroll tax revenues are off and unemployment has been higher than the national average. To have employers close their doors, or to be forced to use monies that could be used for salaries to pay for additional security, has been a real issue.
Colorado recently passed an internet sales tax which will have a pretty widespread effect on retailers who sell items in that state. What’s the GRA’s take on this type of legislation? Has there been any talk of similar bills in your state?
Georgia passed the conforming language for the Streamlined Sales Tax Project this year and has supported similar language which would provide a level playing field for brick and mortar retailers.
In June, more than 2500 loss prevention executives, retailers and law enforcement officials will descend upon Atlanta for NRF’s 2010 Loss Prevention Conference. For the thousands of people coming in from out of town, can you share what’s on your ‘Top Five Things To Do in Atlanta’ list?
When we’re in Atlanta, we’ll have to eat! What are your top three restaurant picks?