Camp Creek retailers, customers on alert after uptick in crimes

Traffic on Camp Creek Parkway flows past the Camp Creek Marketplace where Atlanta and East Point police are working to stem a rash of car break-ins. (Jenna Eason / Jenna.Eason@coxinc.com)
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Traffic on Camp Creek Parkway flows past the Camp Creek Marketplace where Atlanta and East Point police are working to stem a rash of car break-ins. (Jenna Eason / Jenna.Eason@coxinc.com)

Jackson Nicholas went to a late-night showing of the new “Star Wars” movie. When the space fantasy flick ended, he got a quick return to reality. Someone had busted out the rear passenger window of his 2016 Dodge Charger.

“I didn’t have anything of value in there for them to get,” Nicholas told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

But he’s still out $700, the cost of replacing the window and the motor in the door. Nicholas lives near the sprawling Camp Creek Marketplace shopping center in south Fulton County and has been there countless times, but the crimes in the area will keep him away.

“I’m angry about it,” he said. “I won’t be going back to Camp Creek for a while.”

During the past seven weeks, Atlanta and East Point police have investigated numerous crimes at Camp Creek Marketplace, which straddles the boundary for the cities, and is situated off I-285 near Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. Since the beginning of May, Atlanta police have responded to 13 reports of vehicle break-ins, two stolen cars, and six incidents involving property damage, such as attempted car break-ins, according to incident reports obtained by The AJC. East Point police did not provide information on incidents that occurred in their jurisdiction in the shopping center.

Both police departments say they are working together to stem the rising crime with more officer patrols and cameras and working with retailers also eager to stop the crimes.

Several cars parked at TGI Friday recently were vandalized.
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Several cars parked at TGI Friday recently were vandalized.

Credit: Channel 2 Action News

Credit: Channel 2 Action News

“These crimes often are perpetrated by juveniles and others looking to quickly convert stolen property into cash,” Carlos Campos, APD spokesman, said. “The crimes happen very quickly and under the cover of darkness, making them difficult to stop. Our best advice is to leave absolutely nothing of value in your car. As long as thieves are able to find laptops, purses, wallets, firearms, cash and other items of value in cars, the crimes will continue.”

Not all of the crimes are happening when it’s dark and some have been during the day, according to police. The shopping center’s location makes it a prime target for thieves, East Point police Capt. Kenneth Drake said.

“It’s so close to 285, nine out of 10 times if they do anything in the marketplace, they can jump on the highway and be gone,” he said.

A boost for South Fulton

Erika Eaddy doesn’t like to go to the mall. And she rarely has to because her townhome is about a five-minute drive from the Camp Creek Marketplace, a shopping center with plenty of retailers, restaurants and a movie theater.

But Eaddy mostly shops during the daytime and doesn’t always bring her 4-year-old son. One of her neighbors was recently carjacked, and Eaddy says the latest string of vehicle break-ins and thefts at the shopping center is a reminder that she must stay vigilant to avoid becoming a victim.

“Wherever you go, you have to pay attention to your surroundings,” Eaddy told The AJC. “You’ve got to pay attention to who is around you.”

When the Camp Creek Marketplace opened in July 2003, it was the first major shopping center to open in south Fulton in nearly two decades. Expansion around the shopping center began almost immediately and now includes 718,590 square feet of retailers, including Lowe’s, Target, BJ’s Wholesale Club and T.J. Maxx.

The retail development was the boost the area needed, and soon apartment complexes and new neighborhoods were built. Lana Mack lives in the Park in the Marketplace apartment complex and works a few minutes away at Old Navy. When she has the 7 a.m. shift, Mack sees officers patrolling the complex and says she’s never had a problem.

But Mack has seen the broken glass from car windows in a parking lot at one of the restaurants in the area open late, so she knows crimes are happening around her.

“I say a prayer and do what I have to do in life,” she said.

A business group that covers the Camp Creek Marketplace along Camp Creek Parkway hopes for more members of the community to get involved in its efforts to address the crime there. (Jenna Eason / Jenna.Eason@coxinc.com)
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A business group that covers the Camp Creek Marketplace along Camp Creek Parkway hopes for more members of the community to get involved in its efforts to address the crime there. (Jenna Eason / Jenna.Eason@coxinc.com)

Car break-ins anger customers, retailers

Others haven’t been so lucky and have become crime victims simply because they parked their cars.

Shortly before midnight June 6, an Atlanta woman returned to her Ford Escape, parked outside the AMC Camp Creek movie theater, to find the rear passenger window broken, according to a police report. Two $40 money orders and a work vest were missing.

Officers arrived at the parking lot and found several other vehicles, including Nicholas’s Charger, had also been hit. A cellphone, watch and shoes were taken from a Scion, and four other vehicles had broken windows, but nothing was stolen, according to police. Investigators were able to obtain video surveillance footage from the theater and got fingerprints from some of the vehicles, but no arrests have been made.

On May 5, five cars were also broken into while parked at the same theater. A laptop, headphones and clothing were stolen from the victims’ cars, which were damaged by the criminals, according to police.

Cars parked at the movie theater aren’t the only ones targeted. On June 7, the windows of several vehicles were broken outside the TGI Friday’s restaurant, according to police, and electronics and a pair of Gucci sandals were stolen. The eateries are often targeted by suspects, according to Drake.

“If you’re going to a restaurant, you’re going to be longer than five minutes,” he said.

Tommy Clerkley, a tattoo artist, has worked at the “Body Art” shop for nearly six years and says the crime has been a constant issue for the past two years. The area is always busy, Clerkley said, and that’s good for businesses. But he worries that news of the break-ins will deter customers who don’t want to leave their cars for several hours to get inked.

“Nobody’s safe,” Clerkley said.

Clerkley tries to park his car close to his shop and frequently walks outside to check on it. He and others that work in the area have gotten to know each other well, and safety is among their top concerns.

“We look out for each other,” he said.

The street in front of DSW Shoes near Camp Creek Marketplace. The shopping center’s location makes it a popular pass-through for travelers, such as those heading to or from the airport. (Jenna Eason / Jenna.Eason@coxinc.com)
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The street in front of DSW Shoes near Camp Creek Marketplace. The shopping center’s location makes it a popular pass-through for travelers, such as those heading to or from the airport. (Jenna Eason / Jenna.Eason@coxinc.com)

Fighting crime

Camp Creek Marketplace management has recently installed approximately 16 security cameras, East Point’s Drake said, and officers are being trained to use them. There’s a small East Point police precinct in the shopping center, and the city’s officers and Atlanta officers are working together, the two agencies said. Both agencies are working to increase patrols in the area, including officers that work extra jobs as security officers, Drake said.

“You’re less likely to break into a vehicle when you see police a few feet away,” he said.

Break-ins happen so fast, sometimes they happen before even officers realize it, according to Darris Rollins, president of the Camp Creek Business Association. His group meets the third Thursday of every month at the Holiday Inn Express on Princeton Lakes Court, and Rollins said he’d like to see more in the community attend to discuss ways to fight crime.

“Apparently they (criminals) know when and where to go,” Rollins said. “Truth be told, you could sit in the corner of a parking lot and they’ll smash two windows by the time (you) turn around.”

Not all of the break-ins have been successful, Rollins said.

“I’ve seen arrests in parking lots,” he said. “I’ve seen somebody walk out and the cops are in the right place at the right time.”

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Atlanta Police Officer Arrested In Drug Raid

The shopping center’s location makes it a popular pass-through for travelers, such as those heading to or from the airport, and there are also MARTA bus stops along Camp Creek Parkway. It’s a busy area with a diverse population and has easy access to major thoroughfares, making it a goldmine for criminals. But it’s going to take collaboration from police agencies, business and customers to keep the area safe, according to police.

“We don’t want anybody to worry about their car when they’re going shopping or out to eat or seeing a movie,” Drake said. “Nobody wants that. We’re combating it and doing everything possible.”