By John Heavener, President Georgia Retail Assn.

Shrinkage has always a challenge for retailers, accounting for 1.52% of sales in 2009. Shrinkage has historically been defined as losses from shoplifting, employee theft, paperwork errors and vendor fraud. However, in the last four years activities in and around Atlanta, Georgia caused the Georgia Retail Association (GRA) to consider adding smash and grab thefts as an additional category of shrinkage.

Beginning in 2006 Atlanta saw 16 smash and grab burglaries. These typically occurred when thieves broke down doors; exterior windows and even came through adjoining walls to steal merchandise.

In 2007 we saw a dramatic increase in smash and grab burglaries with 97 being reported to LERPnet a service of the National Retail Federation (NRF) whereby retailers and law enforcement report retail theft.

The number of smash and grab thefts increased to 130 in 2008. There were an additional 119 in 2009.

Merchandise loss during that four-year period was nearly $4,000,000.Of those thefts 44% were smash and grabs and 56% were grab and runs. However, the biggest dollar losses came from the smash and grab incidents. A thorny part of this criminal activity is that more than half of the perpetrators were juveniles, usually connected to street gangs.

While 58% of the stores hit have been part of national chain specialty stores; 21% have been small/ independent retailers; and 20% have been national department store chains.

Those smash and grab burglaries continue to be a major threat to retailers in the Atlanta Metro area, but have expanded to Dawsonville and Columbus as well.

As recently as February, 2010 we have seen this phenomenon expand to include convenience stores and pharmacies.

Designer glasses ($352,066 in losses) and high-end blue jeans ($1,235,172 in losses) have been hot items throughout the problem, but recently the trend has been to steal cell phones, mp3 players and computers. The theft of electronic merchandise has now surpassed $350,000.

The typical smash and grab occurs in a matter of minutes, with breaking, entry and theft occurring before police or security can respond.

In the early summer of 20009 the GRA Board Chair, Bill Bregar of Loss Prevention Services and GRA President, John Heavener began talking about what, if anything, GRA could do to stem this wave of criminal activity. The two GRA leaders decided it would be best to open a dialog between retailers and law enforcement on the smash and grab problem.

Since Macy’s was a member of GRA, and they had experienced a number of smash and grab burglaries, a call was made to Mike Liberatore, Vice President for Loss prevention for Macy’s Southeast Region. Mike was instantly interested and suggested that a call be made to Angelica Rodriguez, Senior Loss Prevention Director at the NRF about providing data from LERPnet.

Over forty individuals from twenty-plus retailers, law enforcement personnel and district attorney staff attended the first meeting held at the Georgia Capitol. They decided to work together as the Coalition on Smash and Grab Thefts to develop some answers to the problem.

Meeting monthly since August, the group formulated a legislative remedy, similar to the law passed in Florida in 1996.

In October representatives of the group met with Representative Rich Golick, from Smyrna, Georgia, who chairs the House of Representative’s judiciary committee that handles criminal legislation. Agreement was soon reached that a bill which would address the use of an automobile in retail burglary, along with tougher penalties for adults who recruit juveniles for criminal activities and tougher penalties for juveniles, who represent more than half of the smash and grab offenders, was needed.

Sharla Jackson, an attorney in the Fulton County District Attorney’s office explained that if we continue to turn these juveniles back out on to the street, there was little or no chance of rehabilitating them. Instead these youthful criminals wore their arrests as a badge of honor, giving them status within their gangs.

Recently, Senator Preston Smith, from Rome, Georgia, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, introduced a bill drafted by GRA to address this issue. That legislation, Senate Bill 423, is the result of six month’s work by the Coalition on Smash and Grab Thefts.

In addition to the legislative remedy introduced by Senator Smith, the Coalition will be working to educate youngsters about the retail industry and about what criminal activity can do to ruin their lives. In addition the Coalition will work with the City of Atlanta, churches and various nonprofit groups to provide alterative activities designed to lessen gang activity.

(Those interested in working on the problem of smash and grab thefts can contact Mr. Heavener at 678-523-176 or Mr. Bregar at 770-426-7593, extension 101.)