Sheriff Dart ramps up efforts to curb Mag Mile retail theft

Thefts have surged by 83% percent since 2020

Sheriff Dart Ramps Up Efforts To Curb Mag Mile Theft
Sheriff Tom Dart (Friends of Tom Dart, Getty)

While an increase of online shopping and broader market challenges have been the main culprit in the Magnificent Mile’s retail struggles, the Cook County Sheriff’s Office is working to tackle another that’s hindered a post-pandemic recovery: crime.

The Cook County Sheriff’s Office has boosted its presence in the downtown area since the civil unrest of spring 2020, opening two new locations in River North in January 2022, Crain’s reported. A $276,000 grant from Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul last year allowed law enforcement to bolster its retail theft task force, which now patrols Michigan Avenue and the Gold Coast.

Officers are employing traditional policing methods, such as walking the beat and engaging with businesses, to deter theft and apprehend offenders. Their presence is especially critical as the Chicago Police Department faces a personnel shortage, with 1,700 vacancies. Many retailers are also relying on private security, although their authority is limited.

In the 18th District, which encompasses much of the sheriff’s beat, the number of robberies has risen from 250 in 2020 to 357 in 2023. Thefts have also surged by 83 percent from 602 to 1,101 during that stretch. Notably, motor vehicle thefts have more than doubled since 2019, possibly linked to retail thieves’ use of stolen cars.

The retail theft wave isn’t confined to the 18th District, as neighborhoods like Bucktown, Wicker Park and Logan Square have also experienced a spike in robberies. Citywide, thefts have skyrocketed by 94 percent since 2020, the outlet reported, citing Chicago Police Department data.

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Retail thieves now operate in coordinated and sophisticated groups, implementing tactics such as reconnaissance and strategic planning. The sheriff’s office has observed organized crime units recruiting juveniles for operations, given their potential for shorter sentences if caught.

“It is cat and mouse. The real problem lies in people who are well organized,” Roe Conn, director of data-driven strategies for the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, told the outlet. “The vast amount of merchandise that is stolen, high-end merchandise and medium-end, is being stolen in large numbers by individuals who work for organized criminal enterprises.”

Despite these challenges, the retail theft task force has made strides, with an 18.3 percent reduction in thefts in the area from May 15 through October 1, compared to the same period in 2022. Retailers and community leaders, like Magnificent Mile Association CEO Kimberly Bares, have supported the sheriff’s officer program.

— Quinn Donoghue 

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