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Thieves Flee Into Red Line Subway Tunnel After Swiping Clothes From H&M Store On Mag Mile

CHICAGO (CBS) -- There was mayhem on the Magnificent Mile in broad daylight Thursday – as thieves hit two stores and in one instance, tried to get away on the Red Line subway.

As CBS 2 Political Investigator Dana Kozlov reported, the suspected thieves did not get on a train in the subway. They ran down the tracks.

Police said they received a call that six people walked into the H&M store at 840 N. Michigan Av., grabbed a bunch of clothes, and ran outside late Thursday morning.

The thieves made their way to the Chicago Avenue subway station on the Red Line, jumped down onto the tracks, and ran north and then west through the tunnel to the next stop at Clark/Division, where police were waiting for them, and arrested five people.

Officers took those five people back to the H&M store, where employees identified them as the thieves, and the five were taken to the Near North (18th) District police station for processing.

The Chicago Transit Authority said Red Line trains were stopped at the Chicago stop shortly before noon after the thieves ran onto the tracks. Red Line service resumed about 20 minutes later, though with some delays.

In a separate theft about an hour later, two suspects in masks and black hats parked a black car in front of the Louis Vuitton store at 919 N. Michigan Av. They went inside and implied they had a weapon, and came out carrying handbags, a witness told Kozlov.

The witness said one suspect ran back inside and came out with more loot.

Officers later tracked the getaway car from the Louis Vuitton theft to 32nd Street and Eberhart Avenue in the Prairie Shores area. Its front tire had blown out and was shredded. Stolen merchandise was found inside. No one was in custody.

The incidents are raising some serious questions about what more should be done to stop crimes like these.

"Organized retail crime is up all over the city, and frankly, all over the county," said Tanya Triche Dawood of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association.

Since the start of the year, there have been 162 retail thefts on the Near North Side. Thefts have spiked over the past four years, hitting a high of 1,497 in 2019. Last year there were 1,473 thefts.

On the Mag Mile alone, thefts, burglaries, and robberies from Jan. 1 to Feb. 13 have been on the rise since 2016, when there were 61. In 2017, there were 73 in that six-week period; in 2018, there were 103; in 2019, there were 89; and this year, there were 100.

"It is a problem that we have had a very difficult time trying to manage in the retail industry," Dawood said.

Dawood said statewide, stores lost $2 billion in revenue because of theft.

"That's $25 million at the local level of sales tax revenue, that local jurisdictions didn't realize because items are being stolen," she said.

Dawood made a distinction between mere petty theft and organized retail crime.

"This is an organized group of people that is moving from state to state, that are enlisting local residents to steal for them, and that money that's made from that activity goes to fund other nefarious activity," she said.

That other nefarious activity can involve gangs and guns, Dawood said.

"We need to separate retail theft from organized retail crime," Dawood said. "Illinois needs an organized retail crime statute that treats organized retail crime for the serious crime that it is."

Dawood said merchants across the city are throwing money into loss prevention strategies, including security. But she said one real deterrent would be making sure the Cook County State's Attorney's office prosecutes those crimes appropriately.

"We need diversion programs for folks who are addicted. We need diversion programs for folks who are stealing for the first or second time. We want to make sure that people get a real second chance," Dawood said. "But for those folks who have decided to make this a career, we're going to treat it like the crime that it is."

Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx is on the record defending how her office handles retail thefts and crimes.

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