By JOHN O’CONNOR, AP Political Writer
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Friday signed a law making it easier to pursue those who engage in the rapidly growing crime of organized retail theft.
Large-scale smash-and-grab crime exploded to the top of the legislative priority list with high-profile cases in Chicago, various California locales and Minneapolis. Gangs enter stores and in a coordinated fashion, break display cases, sweep up merchandise and run.
“Organized retail crime is not a victimless crime,” said Rob Karr, president and CEO of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association. “It threatens the safety of employees and customers, robs businesses of tax dollars and puts communities at risk of further crime.”
The stolen items are often sold for money to buy guys and finance more serious crimes including human trafficking and terrorism, Karr said.
Because the goods stolen often outstrip existing retail theft limits, the law creates the offense of organized retail crime and slaps it with felony penalties. It covers supply-chain thefts, where goods are stolen en route from manufacturer to distributor to retailer.
Rep. Kam Buckner, the Chicago Democratic House sponsor, said it was a top legislative priority because “between inflation and the lingering effects of the pandemic, local businesses are already facing major obstacles.”
The crime has “disturbed residents, wreaked havoc on businesses and stunted growth within local economies,” said the Senate sponsor, Republican Sen. Suzy Glowiak Hilton, a Western Springs Democrat.
It reduces the roadblocks to prosecution of the often multi-jurisdictional crime. If the crime is planned in one county, carried out in another, and the goods sold in a third, a prosecutor in any of the locations may file charges for all aspects of the crime.
“This is how we protect store workers and customers, prevent militarized storefronts and empty commercial corridors, and across the board, make communities safer for all who call them home,” Pritzker said, also calling for continued expansion of victims’ rights.
Online fencing is deterred by requiring all third-party selling platforms to verify the identity of their sellers and require them to provide address and phone.
The law also directs that additional funds be provided each year to the state attorney general to combat the crime and opens up communication among local, state and federal law enforcement and private-industry asset protection managers to share tips and intelligence.
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