The City of Savannah, Georgia, wants to crack down on shopping cart theft by punishing the businesses that have their carts stolen.
On Thursday, the Savannah City Council will consider a proposed ordinance to fine businesses $375 each time one of their carts is found off their property. The ordinance would also require businesses to establish a cart theft prevention and retrieval plan. Businesses that fail to establish or abide by such a plan would be fined an additional $500.
Taking a shopping cart off the property of the retailer it belongs to is already a misdemeanor criminal offense in Georgia. But not enough people think of taking a shopping cart home as stealing, says Margret Williams, the city's customer service administrator.
"In citizens' minds, they're not really stealing it, they're just borrowing it," Williams told the local Fox affiliate in November, when the ordinance was first being floated. "They just want to take it home, and they're just not thinking that they need to take it back."
The new law details the menace that free-range carts pose to the City of Savannah. According to the text of the ordinance, these carts "create conditions of blight" wherever they roam, interfering with vehicular traffic and even costing lives, since they could "impede emergency services."
Discussions of how to penalize shopkeeps for their lost or stolen property have been in the works for years, but they have faced opposition from retailers and trade associations.
Kathy Kuzava of the Georgia Food Industry Association says that adding penalties to grocery stores will only discourage them from expanding in neighborhoods that already have few retail options. "You don't want to overregulate the stores you want to come into the area," Kuzava told Savanah Morning News.
Savanah Alderman Julian Morris claims that the bill—by encouraging stores to offer cash returns in exchange for returned carts—would create jobs in the community. "If it's $1 to return a cart, or even fifty cents to return a cart, there are people who would get those carts and turn them in for the money," he told the city's Fox affiliate.
Savanah is hardly the first city in America to take this approach to stolen shopping carts.
Glendale, California, led the way in 1988, collecting carts taken from store property and charging the stores a free to get the carts back. Unlike Savannah and its $375 charge, Glendale levies a more modest $92 penalty.
Fresno, California, may have the strictest controls on shopping carts. Not only does the city require that a business owner maintain a "cart containment program" or otherwise contract with a cart retrieval business, it also threatens fines up to $1,000 and sentences of up to a year in jail for those caught in possession of a cart outside the appropriate business's propery.
All these bills operate under the ludicrous premise that stores need new incentives to prevent their own property from being stolen.
Whatever visions you might conjure of shopping carts clogging up roads and blocking ambulances, stores are the real victims of shopping cart theft. The measures they take to retain and retrieve their carts is going to depend on how likely it is their carts are stolen and whether the cost of getting them back is actually worth it.
By mandating that businesses invest in additional security for their carts when they otherwise wouldn't, the City of Savannah would only be piling on a costly regulation that serves the interests of neither businesses or their customers.