SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WGEM) — Following viral videos over the past few months depicting large groups rushing into stores and stealing as much merchandise as they can carry, Governor JB Pritzker signed a law that was supposed to crack down to this type of crime.
The law addresses the attempt to tackle organized retail crime from a number of angles. First, it creates a legal definition for organized retail crime and creates a way for prosecutors across Illinois to communicate and discover the crime rings that Attorney General Kwame Raoul says exist in the state.
An organized retail crime charge would be defined as a Class 3 felony if someone knowingly participates with others in a theft of $300 or more. If they do this in more than one facility, that is also classified as a Class 2 felony.
They argue that the definition prevents petty shoplifters from being targeted by tougher laws. Attorney General Kwame Raoul said his goal with his office’s investigation into organized retail crime was to crush the “multi-billion dollar” industry in the resale market.
“This is not aimed at low-income parents who are desperate to feed their child. It’s not about a kid making a myopic mistake,” Pritzker said. “This is about a multi-billion dollar industry of organized crime conducting sophisticated theft operations to make a profit in the retail market.”
The law would expand communications between police departments and give the state more powers in prosecuting retail crimes, including introducing the state grand jury to investigate and prosecute offenders.
They believe that large-scale thefts like this are used to fund other illegal activities such as human trafficking and drug trafficking. Targets are often large department stores, pharmacies, hardware stores and even car dealerships.
The crimes are fast and sometimes destructive. They are described as an “organized mob” that storms into stores and takes as much as they can carry. Raoul and other shopping district officials fear fear will keep shoppers away from stores and affect business overall.
“Organized retail crime has increased, not just in Illinois but nationwide,” Raoul said. “I’m talking about people who are afraid to go shopping on Michigan Avenue or the Oak Brook Center or quite frankly the neighborhood. When you go into a Walgreens or a CVS, it becomes more and more inconvenient because they have to protect their products, they have to get an attendant to unlock things. There is all sorts of evidence that things are going up, not down.”
Also, online retailers need to screen sellers with a large volume of products to ensure the products are not being stolen. Sellers must prove their identity with address, telephone number and business tax status, if applicable. It would only apply to third-party vendors who log 200 or more discrete sales per year and generate $5,000 or more in revenue.
This measure would help police identify potentially stolen goods, but Raoul argues it is also a consumer protection measure to discourage people from buying stolen items without knowing it.
“If these items are stolen and offered to unsuspecting consumers on online marketplaces, some of these items are food and if they are not stored appropriately, it becomes a consumer protection issue,” Raoul said. “If it’s a new device that’s sold as new with no warranty, then it’s a consumer protection issue.”
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