Lawmakers have already unveiled a weak measure to combat crime in Illinois by creating a task force, with an added provision for new spending on witness protection and a companion measure to modestly boost social programs said to target crime prevention. They’ve also introduced another measure recently meant to combat carjacking. But HB 3699, the carjacking bill, fails to correct misguided policy earlier enacted by legislators. In 2015 they effectively removed the right of county prosecutors to charge juvenile carjackers as adults.
That was wrong because carjacking is a particularly serious and terrifying crime with a lasting impact on victims. Anyone who commits a carjacking vaults themselves into the world of serious adult crime, and therefore should face prosecution as an adult.
But lawmakers would rather natter around the edges. State Sen. Robert Martwick on Tuesday April 5 introduced the carjacking-related amendment to a seemingly unrelated House Bill which revises “Buy American/Buy Illinois” procurement language. The Martwick amendment would create the Intergovernmental Carjacking Enforcement Act allowing cities and counties to form joint groups to catch carjackers. The joint groups could get state grants for up to half of their budgets, and state police would report to lawmakers annually on their work and progress.
Carjackings increased in Chicago in 2021 to 1,836, or 204 percent from 2019 levels.
The new proposal specifically does not reverse a measure approved by lawmakers in 2015 to rescind from county prosecutors the ability to charge juveniles as adults for armed vehicular carjacking. Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle successfully lobbied in favor of that bill.
Charging juvenile carjackers as adults could help deter the stark rise in carjackings, or at least ensure punishment more commensurate with the crime, upon conviction. Earlier this year a 16-year-old on probation for three juvenile carjacking convictions, was charged with murder in the shooting death of eight-year-old Melissa Ortega in Chicago. She was caught in the crossfire of an apparent gang conflict. Last summer, 73-year-old Keith Cooper was killed during a carjacking attempt in Hyde Park by a charged suspect already on parole for juvenile carjacking.
Another recently-introduced crime measure in Springfield has to do with organized retail crime.
Overall retail theft in Illinois – of which organized retail crime rings are a part – was estimated at $4 billion in 2020. High-profile organized retail crimes in Cook County were in the news often in 2021. Many of them involved multiple shoplifters working together in full view of security cameras.
The organized retail crime amendment to HB 1091, a bill regulating online commerce, spells out a series of new definitions and classifies them as felonies of varying levels.
The amendment stipulates that organized retail crime is committed when there is: theft with intent to resell; theft by two or more people; or theft of goods in transit from a manufacturer. The definition also includes knowingly receiving, buying, or purchasing stolen retail merchandise, or when parties conspire, recruit, finance or organize retail crime.
Under the bill, the crimes above would be either Class Two, Class Three, or Class Four felonies. Additionally, the Illinois Attorney General would be granted authority to investigate, charge, and prosecute for organized retail theft, under the Statewide Grand Jury Act.
But alleged perps, and victims of retail crime haven’t been waiting to see what lawmakers will do. And it may be a case of too little, too late.
The owner of the marquee high-end vertical shopping mall Water Tower Place on North Michigan Avenue has turned the property over to its lender because its value is now less than the debt owed. In the wake of ongoing crime in and around the mall, a series of major tenants moved out, including Macy’s, The Gap, Banana Republic, and a food hall.
Another downtown retailer is not waiting for new legislation. Neiman Marcus has hired gun-sniffing dogs.
One such canine recently helped security guards detain a shoplifting suspect who wasn’t waiting for lawmakers, either. He was subsequently charged with felony-level retail theft. However it turned out that the retail theft suspect was already on electronic monitoring and facing trail for an earlier offense: felony aggravated battery of a police officer.
In addition, that same suspect had earlier been convicted for felony unlawful use of a weapon but the charge was plea-bargained down to a misdemeanor and he was released based on time served, eighty days.