‘Smash and grab’ retail theft target of legislation looking to tackle organized crime

Published: Mar. 29, 2022 at 4:29 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD (WGEM) - Senators are pushing legislation that aims to crack down on organized retail crime, infamously known as smash and grabs where a team runs into a store grabbing any and all merchandise.

In recent years, Western Chicago Suburbs Sen. Suzy Glowiak Hilton (D) said there has been a trend of large retail crimes, saying she’s never said anything like this. She along with other senators are looking to make a broad approach that combats organized retail theft, namely through creating a legal definition for the crime and requiring more vetting of high-volume online vendors.

The legal definition of organized retail crime would close what advocates call a legal loophole that has allowed perpetrators to avoid serious charges based on the jurisdiction and charges. Advocates argue this would give prosecutors a tool in combatting retail theft. The charge would be classified between a Class 4 and Class 2 felony, depending on how severe the crime was. Based on those classifications, it could carry a sentence of one to seven years of jail time.

“By singling it out, you’re recognizing it for what it is: it is in and of itself a crime,” President of Illinois Retail Merchant Association Rob Karr said. “Not just a burglary, not just retail theft it’s a more comprehensive approach.”

However, it would not apply to all types of theft. Rather it would also require prosecutors prove the intent to sell the stolen merchandise.

“It’s not the intent to prosecute two high school girls that go into a drugstore and steal a lipstick, that is not what this is looking to do,” Glowiak-Hilton said.

While massive retail thefts aren’t occurring in every part of the state, bill advocates argue it’s a statewide issue when those goods are sold online.

Online retailers would be required to vet “high volume sellers,” or sellers that have a lot of products, to make sure they’re a legitimate business. The bill language would require them to obtain banking account numbers, working contact information for the seller, business tax identification information. The aim is to prevent stolen goods from selling.

“That is one element, where the theft occurs,” Executive Director of the Illinois Sheriffs’ Association Jim Kaitschuk said. “It is happening across the board. This is just one aspect that we’re talking about where the theft occurs, but it’s the transportation and it’s the sale of those goods as well.”

Additionally, local business owner Monica Zanetti of the Wild Rose boutique in Springfield said she and other business owners are worried that they’ll be a target of organized theft. They also said it keeps customers away who fear the frenzy of retail thefts.

“If we have these occurrences and people are afraid to come downtown to those sites,” it has an impact on boutique owners it has an impact on all those other businesses downtown. so it really can impact the lifeblood of a community.”

The bill has bipartisan support. It currently waits in Executive Committee, which is scheduled for a hearing tomorrow. If it moves out of committee, it will head to the Senate floor. Afterward, it will return to the House to confirm the changes before going to the Governor’s desk. The session ends April 8.

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