Official says shoplifters ‘acting with impunity,’ blames limits on felony charges

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CHICAGO — A spike in pickpocketing and shoplifting is nothing new during the holiday season, but police and officials said a rash of organized shoplifting in places like Lincoln Park and Michigan Avenue is taking things to a new level.

“We’re seeing store security guards being pepper sprayed, maced and physically attacked,” said Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd Ward).

Hopkins said he’s concerned about what he describes as aggressive shoplifting, like a Nov. 9 incident on State Street, where a shopper got punched and sprayed in the face. One day later, according to police, five shoplifters at an H&M store caused a distraction and swiped merchandise in the process.

“So they have no fear and they’re acting with impunity; that needs to change,” Hopkins said.

Even when police catch the culprits, Hopkins criticizes how they're handled by State's Attorney Kim Foxx. According to Hopkins, there are no consequences for juveniles and those caught stealing less than $1,000 in merchandise, because they're usually looking at a misdemeanor offense.

“What isn’t happening are felony prosecutions. The states' attorney has decided to stop prosecuting felony theft cases unless they’re over $1,000, when the state limit is $300,” Hopkins said, calling the decision a "big mistake."

The Cook County State's Attorney's Office has released the following statement in response:

We have not decriminalized retail theft cases. We continue to prosecute these cases as misdemeanors with the discretion to prosecute them as felonies if the facts and evidence call for it. Since increasing the felony threshold from $300 to $1,000, prosecutors have been able to focus more attention to the drivers of violence rather than low level, non-violent offenses. In incidents of theft referred to our office by law enforcement involving a weapon, armed robbery is the appropriate charge - not retail theft. Since State’s Attorney Foxx took office in December 2016, the SAO has a 90% approval rate for charging armed robbery cases, prosecuting nearly 1,200 cases with a 88% conviction rate.

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