Georgia's cargo theft turnaround

Special Agent John Cannon drives through truck stop (Perry Smith, WGXA)

For several years Georgia was one of the top state's in the nation for cargo crime.

It turns out just about every electronic device, some medications,and even the food you buy is more expensive because of it..

But now the state has gone from being one of the worst for cargo theft, to a model other states now study.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation says one major computer manufacturer told them it was adding $300 into the price of every computer sold, to cover theft loss.

That computer company also sent out a warning notice telling truckers to quit stopping in Georgia, and drive straight through.

With millions of dollars in fuel taxes and spending by truckers, and the state's reputation at stake state leaders knew something had to change.

The job of fighting back against cargo theft fell to GBI Special Agent John Cannon back in 2008.

"Very quickly, very quietly Georgia was ranked in the top 5 in the country for several years for cargo thefts. And that was the reason for the implementation of the GBI special theft unit."

As Ed Crowell with the Georgia Motor Trucking Association says stopping cargo theft is tough, because the victims and the theft rings are so mobile. "They can go commit a crime in one location, and then two days later be in a totally different location in another part of the state and do the same thing".

Or a trucker may be hundreds of miles away when they realize they were robbed.

The answer, a task force coordinated by the GBI to help different law enforcement agencies across the state work together to solve the theft cases across county lines. Cannon knew the stakes are high. "If you steal a truck load of computers you're talking several million dollars worth, or pharmaceuticals for example, any pharmaceutical load is going to be several million dollars worth".

It not only costs you more money, but it puts your family's health at risk too. That's because frozen food and pharmaceuticals don't always stay that way after they're stolen.

"So you could be buying food, you could be buying pharmaceuticals that are not safe any longer. Either they are not effective, or they're actually dangerous," says Crowell.. "The food can show up in restaurants, small stores, folks where someone is just making a purchase out the back door".

An important tool in the fight is CargoNet. It's a company that tracks thefts across the country to help companies and investigators coordinate their investigations.

In the middle Georgia region it shows 58 thefts between 2012 and 2016, but only 6 in the final year.

Crowell says it's an impressive turnaround. "In all the time we've been involved we've never seen what Georgia's accomplished. We've had a 60% drop in overall cargo theft reports after the task force got up and running".

Agent Cannon says the thieves targeting the cargo use several different methods.

Sometimes, they'll steal the truck and trailer, take it to another location, and then hook the trailer to a different truck, so they can haul just about anywhere they want undetected.

There's also another tactic. Where thieves target a parked truck.. and steal part of the load. Loads are often marked with a plastic strip to show that the trailer wasn't opened in transit. By just walking a few hundred feet we found a handful of those strips on the ground by a wooded area in one truck stop parking lot.

"So the only reason for this to be on the ground here is someone probably broke into this truck?", I asked.

Cannon answered, "Somebody came up from probably in these woods right here, and snatched these off the back of a trailer, and took part of the load off the back of the trailer. There's no reason for these to be here other than a break-in".

But as the numbers show thefts in middle Georgia and other spots across the state are way down. The task force hit one ring in south Florida especially hard.

"Word kind of got out in south Florida that if you came to Georgia and you stole cargo that we would find you and bring you back to Georgia," says Cannon. "That was part of our strategy was to aggressively pursue these cargo thieves and basically make Georgia a hostile environment for them".

And like a load of cargo, that kind of word spreads around the country fast.

While the ability to work and coordinate theft information statewide is partly responsible for the success of the task force, there's also a lot of surveillance and old fashioned detective work that they use..

Agent Cannon says several times they've actually called to tell companies about items they recovered so quickly, the companies didn't even realize the items were missing yet.

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