Savannah Harbor

Cranes move containers at the port in Savannah. (Photos contributed by Stephen Morton / GPA)

ATLANTA -- Georgia ranks in the top five states for cargo thefts, a statistic which a new law hopes to combat.

The Georgia Cargo Theft Act was signed by Gov. Nathan Deal April 15 and goes into effect July 1. The law change specifies punishments based on the value of stolen cargo and identifies penalties for tampering with transport trucks. 

“This really was an opportunity to create (punishment) levels to tie the value to the cargo being stolen,” said bill sponsor Rep. Geoff Duncan, R-Cumming.

Georgia’s ports and interstates make it a prime target for freight theft, said Executive Director of the Georgia Center of Innovation for Logistics Page Siplon, but the promise of stricter punishments could deter criminals.

“We’ve got to have laws behind it so that people think twice maybe about stealing,” he said.

Before the punishments were outlined in this bill, cargo theft cases were oftentimes never prosecuted or were pleaded down to minor car-theft charges when the thieves were actually caught, said Ed Crowell, president of the Georgia Motor Trucking Association. This did little to worry criminals.

“(The bill) can only be helpful,” Crowell said. “Cargo theft is a real problem for the industry, and this particular law helps clarify and strengthen penalties for cargo theft.”

One point of the bill specifies punishments for pharmaceutical theft, an industry with high monetary and personal health consequences, Duncan said.

“If you steal pharmaceuticals, there’s a patient waiting for that,” he said.

Medicine is also at a greater risk, strictly from a financial point of view, said Siplon. Pharmaceuticals are more expensive for consumers and companies and also have a higher resale value on the black market.

Identifying vulnerable industries and goods while placing more policing power behind punishments shows an understanding of private industry that can benefit Georgia’s relationship with companies, Siplon said. Even though bringing more businesses into Georgia is not a direct goal, the state and its industries can profit from greater freight protection.

“I don’t think people will come (to Georgia) just because of an anti-theft law, but I think it’s an important piece of the puzzle,” Siplon said.

Crowell said the bill has good intentions for industry protection, but its effectiveness will depend on how it is executed in the real world.

“The law is just words on the page unless it’s utilized and enforced,” he said.