An estimated $100,000 in designer clothing, expensive handbags and cell phones has been taken over the last few years in a series of smash-and-grab break-ins at North Georgia Premium Outlets.
“I can recall eight times in the last two years,” said Dawson County Sheriff’s Lt. Tony Wooten.
Sometimes the robbers have used rocks. Other times they have smashed through the front doors with the getaway vehicle that they proceed to load with merchandise to sell later on the street or Internet.
In addition to the missing merchandise, they cause thousands of dollars in damages every time they strike in Dawson County and across metro Atlanta.
A bill passed unanimously in the state Senate last week would create a new crime category for these burglaries, which officials say are taking a financial toll on Georgia’s retail industry.
“Smash-and-grab burglaries have surged nationwide and have hit Atlanta retailers particularly hard,” said Sen. Preston Smith of Rome, who introduced Senate Bill 423.
According to the Georgia Retail Association, about $4 million was lost to smash-and-grab burglaries between 2006, when 16 were reported in the Atlanta area, and 2009 when reports say 119 were committed.
“This is taking a huge toll on one of the state’s most important industries that is already suffering in the current economic climate,” Smith said in a statement.
Under the new bill, there would be stiffer penalties, including increased fines and longer jail terms, for offenders as well for those recruiting youth to commit the crimes.
Sen. Chip Pearson of Dawsonville said the legislation sends a strong message to those committing the crimes “and a stronger message to those who are recruiting and encouraging our young folks to commit these crimes.”
According to authorities, groups including the Blue Jeans Bandits and the 30 Deep gang have set up elaborate rings that use teens to carry out the crimes throughout the metro region.
The bill would protect children who are 14 years or younger from being charged with a felony for smash-and-grab burglaries.
“Obviously, with the outlet mall and all the good it brings, its proximity to Ga. 400 also brings with it some bad,” Pearson said. “Hopefully, this will add a level of protection for our retailers at the outlet mall and statewide.”
Officials with North Georgia Premium Outlets could not be reached for comment.
According to a Senate spokeswoman, the bill is being reviewed by the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee.