The Illinois Senate has a bipartisan plan to crack down on smash-and-grab retail thefts and the selling of stolen items that follows.
The legislation takes aim at retail theft networks that are believed to be responsible for stealing merchandise from stores. It identifies the offense of “organized retail crime” and seeks to eliminate jurisdictional restraints that often hinder wholesale prosecution. It would also provide more money for police and prosecutors to chase the scofflaws.
“Crime networks have really been utilizing the chaotic smash-and-grab tactics in stores across the country,” said sponsoring Sen. Suzy Glowiak Hilton, a Western Springs Democrat. “People come in to smash and grab, they scare the employees they scare the folks who are patronizing the stores and they do damage as well. People fear for their lives.”
Proponents say statistics are hard to come by, but high-profile hits have put the issue front and center. People show up in groups for mass shoplifting events or to enter stores and smash and grab from display cases. California is seeking $300 million over three years to combat the problem. Minneapolis has reported several incidents as well.
“It’s scary to be by yourself and all of a sudden you hear the news of what’s happening,” Monica Zanetti, owner of the Springfield artisan shop Wild Rose Boutique, said. “But I just feel like we’re ahead of it. They (thieves) haven’t been downtown, but they could come so I’m glad that this is something that we’re talking about.”
The legislation has the support of the state attorney general and the Illinois Retail Merchants Association. It would give any state’s attorney authority to prosecute all aspects of an organized retail crime. As it stands, jurisdictional problems that can occur that prevent prosecution when a theft occurs in one county and the stolen goods are sold somewhere else, said Rob Karr, president and CEO of the retail merchants.
Additionally, if a cellphone or the internet is used to coordinate such a crime, any state’s attorney may step in. In certain cases, such as multiple thefts across state lines, the Illinois attorney general would be able to pursue suspects with anti-racketeering laws.
“This will lead to a more comprehensive prosecution that will capture more individuals that are involved in the network,” said Sen. John Curran, a Downers Grove Republican and co-sponsor of the legislation. “You’re talking about anyone involved in organizing, planning through the actual commission of the crime and on the back end with the proliferation of stolen goods.”
The plan seeks more money each year for the attorney general’s office to hire investigators and lawyers as well as grant money available to state’s attorneys in counties susceptible to the crime.
Stolen items are often sold online, so the bill would require third-party marketplaces to verify sellers and the goods they offer. The provision mirrors pending legislation in Congress sponsored by Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin and Rep. Jan Schakowsky, both Democrats.
Other provisions would coordinate information-sharing between the public and private sectors, which include asset protection managers, and would require retailers who are victims of organized retail crime to be notified of all court proceedings.
The Legislature’s spring session is scheduled to end April 8.