Lawmakers are pitching a new bill aimed at deterring a particular type of offense that has drawn headlines in recent months: organized retail crime. They have just over a week to pass the bill before their self-imposed April 8 adjournment deadline.
The crime, sometimes called "smash-and-grab crime," is defined in the new legislation as theft of merchandise from a retail store when the thief has the intention to resell the stolen products, when they commit the theft in a group or when the theft is committed while the goods are in transit.
It has drawn attention because of a few high-profile cases of large thefts, such as when the state’s attorney general recovered what his office called in a press release "tens of thousands of products worth millions of dollars."
Monica Zanetti, the owner of downtown Springfield’s Wild Rose Artisans Boutique, said she was happy to see lawmakers take up the issue, particularly as the subject gains news coverage.
Zanetti worries that the topic may frighten customers away from shopping downtown.
"I don’t want my customers to feel scared," she said. "It has an emotional impact."
Zanetti added that for small businesses in particular, shoplifting and retail crime can hurt a business’s’ bottom line.
In addition to defining the crime for the first time in statute, Glowiak Hilton’s measure also provides expanded jurisdiction to state’s attorneys prosecuting organized retail crime and outlines a plan for funding investigations.
The bill also requires online marketplaces, like eBay and Amazon, to independently verify the identity of "high volume third-party" sellers.
"Organized retail crimes have wreaked havoc on our workers, businesses and local economies," said Sen. Doris Turner, D-Springfield, who supports the bill.
There are other crimes that someone committing "organized retail crime" could already be charged with, such as larceny or burglary.
Overall, property crime rates fell by 69.4% between their peak in 1991 and 2020, according to data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Though the FBI does not track organized retail crime as a portion of overall property crime, the National Retail Federation, a trade group for retail businesses, conducted a survey of businesses in 2020 on the subject.
The survey results found organized retail crime accounts for about $720,000 in losses for every $1 billion in sales, or a 0.071% loss rate, up from 2015, when there was a 0.045% loss rate.
Total inventory shrinkage was about 1.6%, according to the NRF’s 2021 "Retail Security Survey."
Illinois retailers, led by Rob Karr of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, support the legislation.
"This proposal seeks to combat organized retail crime comprehensively by addressing the problem from multiple angles," said Karr.
Karr added that the legislation was put together by representatives of his group, the state’s attorney general’s office and lawmakers.
Organized retail crime has been a focus of Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul, who met with members of his Organized Retail Crime Task Force last week.
"The effects of organized retail crime are not limited to any one region of our state, particularly when the sales of stolen merchandise often fund additional criminal activity – such as the drug trade and human trafficking,” Raoul said in a press release.
This isn’t the first time state lawmakers have tried to define this crime uniquely recently. In December, House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, introduced HB 4275, which would have defined "organized retail theft" and laid out penalties, up to a class 1 felony.
Though Durkin’s bill had unanimous support among House Republicans, no Democrats signed on to support the bill and the proposal has not moved at all since February.
Glowiak Hilton’s proposal has earned support from both sides of the aisle. In addition to herself and Turner, Sen. John Curran, R-Downer’s Grove.
Karr said he and the Illinois Retail Merchant Association "look forward to" seeing the bill pass ahead of the April 8 deadline.
This is the first major legislation tackling an increase in crime that has come from the Democrats since lawmakers came to Springfield in January, despite multiple calls from Republicans to address the issue.
Crime and the criminal justice system has come up in other ways at the Statehouse this week, with this legislation coming just a day after a controversy involving the state’s Prisoner Review Board, the body that oversees prisoner release, clemency and parole.
This article originally appeared on State Journal-Register: Illinois lawmakers target organized retail crime
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March 29, 2022 at 04:16PM