CHICAGO (WLS) -- Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul announced Friday that more than $1 million in stolen merchandise has been recovered through the work of his office's Organized Retail Crime Task Force.
This is the first major bust for the Illinois Attorney General's special task force as they seek to crack down on the problem that has plagued retailers. Raoul called it an organized crime ring, and a threat to public safety.
The task force raided eight storage units in two locations Wednesday recovering more than $1 million in stolen goods. It took a 15-member team more than eight hours to unpack all the merchandise which filled four semi trailers.
"We have evidence that these items would have gone walking away very quickly without this this team doing executing all these search warrants," said Chicago Police Chief of Detectives Brendan Deenihan.
This is the first bust by the task force, which was set up in September in response to a series of high profile smash and grab robberies targeting Chicago and the suburbs.
The recovered items include high-end clothing, electronics and beauty items from national retailers. It all started with the arrest of a man with a gun on Sunday.
"Our goal is to disrupt the criminal enterprises that engage in the overall scheme and send a message to these criminal operations that we will identify them, and end the destruction they cause to our communities," Raoul said.
With Michigan Avenue retailers in full swing in the holiday shopping season, Chicago police launched a new deterrent program Friday.
Off-duty officers working security for certain retailers are being provided police radios to directly contact nearby beat officers.
"They can transmit in real-time to the nearby police that are stationed on Michigan Avenue," 2nd Ward Ald. Brian Hopkins said. "It could save 30 seconds from having to make a 911 call."
Organized retail theft is estimated to have resulted in $4 billion in losses last year in Illinois alone.
Raoul said in the days ahead they will be working to identify as many people as possible who are involved in the theft ring connected to this week's bust.
Retailers are hoping it might serve as a deterrent to future smash-and-grab robberies.
On Thursday, Chicago police said nine people hit a Neiman Marcus store in the 700-block of North Michigan Avenue. A 16-year-old boy has been arrested and charged with one count of retail theft as police continue to search for suspects.
"People view retail theft as a victimless crime," said Rob Karr of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association. "It is not a victimless crime, and particularly organized retail crime. They are brazen. They are becoming violent. It impacts the environment in which we operate. We are trying to bring people back downtown to work. We are trying to bring tourists back and it only makes that far more difficult."
In the meantime, retailers are left scrambling with millions of dollars in lost merchandise.
"It puts additional stress on retail sector which was hit particularly hard during the pandemic, is trying to come out of the pandemic, is trying to deal with supply chain issues which is really not of their own making and that are also in their busiest season which is the holiday season," Karr said.
According to the National Retail Federation, organized retail crime has spiked over 60 percent in the last five years.
Following Raoul's announcement, thefts were reported Friday evening along Michigan Avenue at Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus. Police on bikes were spotted outside both stores. So far, there's no word on how much was stolen.
Friday morning, three suspects in a silver sedan approached a store in the Roosevelt Collection in the 1100-block of South Delano Court at about 5:55 a.m., police said. The suspects opened the door of a business and took merchandise and cash boxed before fleeingin the sedan, police said.
On Monday, thieves swarmed the Burberry store just down the street on Michigan Avenue, making off with several expensive designer purses.
Last month, 14 people stormed a Louis Vuitton store at Oakbrook Center and in just minutes stole pricey merchandise and then drove away in three cars.