Shoplifting soars as prosecutors back off

Retail shops at Rush and Oak streets near the Magnificent Mile. | Google

Last Wednesday, Area North detectives issued a community alert about a robbery pattern in Logan Square. Chicago police release similar warnings dozens of times every month.

But the Logan Square warning was unique. An armed man, police said, had shoplifted from the exact same Walgreen’s location and then threatened store employees with a weapon three separate times in three weeks.

A little after 5 o’clock last Friday evening, a small group of men gathered armloads of merchandise and ran out the front door of shoe retailer DSW’s Loop location.

It was the second time in four hours that organized shoplifters had struck the store.

In May, shoplifting crews struck the DSW location at Clark and Halsted in Lakeview three times in one week. Each time, police reports indicate, groups of five to seven men and women entered the location and fled with duffle bags full of merchandise.

A shoplifting crew took all of this merchandise and more from an Ulta Beauty store in Lincoln Park over the summer. | CPD

The popular Ulta Beauty chain has been targeted by countless shoplifting mobs across the city this year. Police on Sunday afternoon said a two-man team stole between $8,000 and $9,000 worth of merchandise from the company’s Lincoln Park location at 1000 West North Ave.

These incidents are not isolated.

A CWBChicago examination of Chicago Police Department data found that retail theft cases are up sharply in recent years across the city and in its busiest shopping corridors.

The increase comes as Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx makes a public effort to back away from retail theft prosecutions. Attorneys in Foxx’s office are instructed to not pursue felony charges against shoplifting suspects unless the value of the pilfered merchandise exceeds $1,000. That’s three times the $300 felony threshold set by state law.

Since Foxx was elected in November 2016, retail theft reports are up 20% across the city. Along the posh Rush Street shopping district, reported incidents have more than doubled. And on State Street, famed in movie and song for its shopping opportunities, retail theft cases are up 32%.

But the North Avenue retail strip between Halsted Street and the Chicago River may be the hardest hit. 

Retailers there filed 100 shoplifting reports with police through the end of September. That’s more than all of last year.

“Full extent of the law”
In a meeting with Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle this summer, suburban mayors spoke about the frustration their police officers and retailers have had with Foxx’s policies. From the Chicago Tribune:

“People are not being prosecuted for stealing,” Justice Mayor Kris Wasowicz told Preckwinkle during the event at the Oak Forest Village Hall hosted by 6th District Cook County Commissioner Donna Miller.

“My police officers are frustrated, my merchants are up in arms,” Wasowicz said.

Thieves have shoplifted up to $1,000 worth of goods at a time from independent retail stores and prosecutors did doing nothing about it, he said.

“A thousand dollars in merchandise — for a small business that could be the profit margin for a month,” Wasowicz said.

Foxx’s office issued a statement after the meeting. 

“The state’s attorney’s office continues to prosecute both misdemeanor retail theft cases when charged by law enforcement and felony retail theft cases to the full extent of the law,” the office said.

Yet, Foxx’s own policy of not pursuing felonies for thefts of less than $1,000 is a direct conflict with her claim to be pursuing cases “to the fullest extent of the law.”

An outlier
CWBChicago studied retail theft report trends for all major shopping districts downtown and on the North Side. Only one is seeing a decline in cases this year: Michigan Avenue between the Chicago River and Oak Street.

After logging 468 cases through September last year, the Mag Mile racked up 389 during the same period this year. The reason for this year’s decline is not clear. However, Water Tower Place mall in January began requiring teenagers to have adult chaperones on weekends, which may make the retail strip less attractive.

Despite the year-over-year decline, shoplifting reports this year on Michigan Avenue are still pacing 13% higher than when Foxx was elected in 2016. 

Familiar tones
California voters in 2014 passed Proposition 47, raising the cut-off point for felony retail theft to $950. Store owners blame Prop 47 for what they say is a noticeable increase in shoplifting.

“It’s happening every day, hour by hour,” said 7-Eleven Franchise Owner, Jassi Dhillon.

At every one of his six locations, he said snacks fly off the shelves, but are often not paid for.

“It’s unbearable. It’s out of control. You will have the same guy coming in five times a day, picking things out,” said Dhillon.

He said it feels it’s no longer a priority for police because it’s now considered petty theft.

Dhillion said each of his stores loses $60,000 to $80,000 per year to shoplifters. He owns six stores.

A reversal
According to data on the state’s attorney website, prosecutors under Foxx are rejecting felony shoplifting cases more often than they pursue them. The ratio? About 2-to-1. By comparison, in the year before Foxx was sworn in, prosecutors approved felony retail theft charges by a ratio of roughly 3-to-1.

In 2016, ASAs rejected 26% of Chicago Police Department requests for felony retail theft approval, according to the state’s attorney’s data. The next year, Foxx’s first in office, ASAs rejected 65% of such requests. The rejection rate so far this year is 69%.

The data also shows that Chicago police, understanding Foxx’s policies, are asking for felony retail theft approval far less often than before Foxx took office. CPD requests for felony approval fell 34% during Foxx’s first year.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story stated that Foxx’s office had not released data to show how her office had handled retail theft cases since 2016. That is incorrect. In 2018, Foxx launched a data website separate from a similar site operated by Cook County. Foxx’s site contains historical data from 2011 to present. The Cook County site, however, does not have data from after 2016. CWBChicago apologizes for the error.

About CWBChicago 6882 Articles
CWBChicago was created in 2013 by five residents of Wrigleyville and Boystown who had grown disheartened with inaccurate information that was being provided at local Community Policing (CAPS) meetings. Our coverage area has expanded since then to cover Lincoln Park, River North, The Loop, Uptown, and other North Side Areas. But our mission remains unchanged: To provide original public safety reporting with better context and greater detail than mainstream media outlets. Our editorial email address is news@cwbchicago.com