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Watch now: State task force to fight organized retail crime

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State officials announces plans for the Illinois Organized Retail Crime Task Force.

CHICAGO — The Illinois attorney general’s office is creating a statewide task force designed to crack down on organized crime rings that steal from retailers.

The thefts go beyond ordinary shoplifting and involve organized groups stealing large quantities of items that can be resold online. The crime rings have become “increasingly brazen and violent” and are estimated to cost retailers $45 billion in annual losses, Attorney General Kwame Raoul said at a news conference Monday.

The task force is designed to improve communication among law enforcement agencies, retailers, online marketplaces and state’s attorneys to help police spot patterns that point to organized crime, rather than isolated incidents, the attorney general’s office said in a news release.

Raoul pointed to some of the looting that occurred “on the edges of legitimate protests” last summer during the civil unrest that erupted in the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing at the hands of Minneapolis police.

“We came to understand that some of this criminal activity was not merely opportunistic, but organized in advance,” he said.

Problems with organized retail crime go beyond those incidents and are on the rise, according to some retailers that will consult with the task force.

Home improvement retailer Lowe’s closed 25 organized retail crime cases amounting to $1.3 million in losses last year, up from 20 cases amounting to $388,000 in losses in 2019, according to the attorney general’s office.

Home Depot, meanwhile, said it helped catch a man who allegedly used e-commerce sites to sell merchandise stolen from the retailer’s stores, including some in Illinois earlier this summer. Law enforcement recovered nearly $50,000 in merchandise from the man’s home, according to Kyle Penoyer, who leads investigations at Home Depot.

The retailer’s investigations into organized retail crime networks have increased 86% since 2016, and while some of the increase is because Home Depot is devoting more resources to the issue, the company believes the problem is also growing, said spokeswoman Christina Cornell.

Home Depot has been working to make its products tougher to steal, including testing technology that keeps certain power tools from working unless they are properly scanned at checkout, she said.

A recent survey by the National Retail Federation found that while retailers’ overall shrink rate, which includes losses due to theft, damage and errors, held steady last year compared with 2019, 65% of retailers surveyed believed organized retail crime gangs were more aggressive and violent.

The impact goes beyond the value of the goods stolen and can affect how safe employees, customers and visitors feel in retail areas, said Kimberly Bares, Magnificent Mile Association CEO.

“People think this is a rounding error, this is an insurance claim. It isn’t. The cost, the loss is significant,” she said. “It has the potential to erode consumer confidence among tenants, and it certainly has employees second-guessing their decision to work in these businesses.”


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