Pritzker signs bill targeting smash-and-grab crime rings

Pritzker is familiar with the problem. A smash-and-grab crime ring dumped a cash register just yards from his Gold Coast home earlier this year.

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Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a bill Friday aimed at curtailing organized retail crime, including the sort of smash-and-grab heists that have plagued high-end Michigan Avenue retailers.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a bill Friday aimed at curtailing organized retail crime, including the sort of smash-and-grab heists that have plagued high-end Michigan Avenue retailers.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Gov. J.B. Pritzker was on Michigan Avenue’s Gold Coast Friday — the site of repeated smash-and-grab robberies — to sign into law a bill that takes aim at such crimes.

House Bill 1091 codifies into state statute “Organized Retail Theft” and creates greater penalties for ringleaders, safeguards that make it harder for stolen goods to be sold anonymously online and allows criminal cases that extend across county lines to be consolidated and prosecuted in one county. 

“This is not about the one-off shoplifting incident, it’s much bigger than that,” Pritzker said during a news conference at the Water Tower Place shopping mall. “It’s about preventing militarized storefronts and empty commercial corridors.”

The crime trend is one that has landed on Pritzker’s block, literally.

Earlier this year, charges were filed against a thief accused of leading a series of smash-and-grab robberies in which thieves dumped stolen cash registers just yards from the front steps of Pritzker’s Gold Coast home between heists.

The new law also creates a statewide intelligence-sharing tool to help retailers, police and prosecutors to communicate. It also requires online marketplaces to verify the identity of high-volume sellers who might be selling stolen goods.

“On behalf of downtown Chicago, our residents and our retail community thank you,” said Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd), whose ward includes much of the downtown area that’s struggled with brazen robberies.

The Illinois Retail Merchants Association was a key partner in drafting and pushing the legislation.

“Organized retail crime is not a victimless crime. It threatens the safety of employees and customers, robs businesses of tax dollars and puts communities at risk of further crime,” said Rob Karr, IRMA president and CEO.

A Michigan Avenue retailer said he hoped the law makes it harder to sell stolen goods on the internet.

“People are optimistic this will change things. Store owners have been asking for help and support for a long time. You can’t even buy deodorant at Walgreens without having someone from the store unlock a cabinet for you. Things have just gotten out of hand,” said the retailer, who asked not to be named.

Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul said organized retail crime also robs tax dollars from publicly funded entities such as schools.

“Serious criminal activities, including gunrunning and drug trafficking, have been funded using proceeds from the sales of merchandise stolen through organized retail crimes,” Raoul said.

Raoul said he didn’t know much about the crime trend until last year when he watched a presentation about retail theft groups and saw images of stolen goods collected in a warehouse after a law enforcement bust.

“You would think you were in a hardware store,” he said.

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