Chicago among worst areas of the country for retail theft, industry group says

Illinois Retail Merchants Association President and CEO Rob Karr | Greg Bishop/

By Glenn Minnis

(The Center Square) — A new National Retail Federation study finds that Chicago now ranks among the worst cities in the country for retail thefts at a time when robberies have also skyrocketed across the region.

With retail theft numbers in big cities from Los Angeles to New York and Atlanta on the upswing, researchers say that retail crime is now sharply on the rise across the country, costing businesses that took part in the Retail Security Survey upwards of $112 billion in losses in 2022. Most of that comes in the area of external thefts, which include merchandise lifted by organized theft rings.

“We’re not surprised. We’ve been focused on the trend in Chicago for quite some time,” Illinois Retail Merchants Association CEO Rob Karr told The Center Square. “I think in part what’s fueling it is that there is a practice and a message that it’s not taken seriously here in Chicago, that retail theft is not a serious crime, and it is a victimless crime, both of which are complete falsehoods.”

Karr said he is now working with Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul to change that perception, including recently passing an organized retail crime bill that makes the offense a felony.

The so-called INFORM Act also makes anyone working with a group to steal merchandise valued at over $300 or more subject to a Class 3 felony charge punishable by up to five years of imprisonment. It gives the state’s attorney the power to prosecute the entirety of such crimes instead of just what occurs in their jurisdiction.

“We know that whoever comes in as Cook County State’s Attorney is certainly going to have to message and practice in a different way,” Karr added. “Criminals have to know that there will be a consequence to be paid for what they do in the city, and currently they don’t believe that consequence will occur.”

At the same time, Karr wants all of the many business owners feeling the pinch to know that they’re not alone.

“We’re fighting to change the environment here,” he added. “Many people believe retailers have insurance for these items and that’s just patently false. There is no insurance for loss due to theft. We need to remind customers every day that every item that goes out of the store, there is no sales tax collected on that item. That means that every service we rely upon from local government and the state is hurt.”

On the robbery front, a recent WBEZ analysis of the city’s Violence Reduction Dashboard finds that reported victimizations across the city are at a six-year high and up 43% compared to the same time last year.

With the city still seeking to fully recover from the effects of the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, small business owners across the city have increasingly been targeted in coordinated assaults.

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