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With Rise In Shoplifting, Some Retailers Criticize State's Attorney's Approach; Prosecutors Defend Policy

CHICAGO (CBS) -- They grab what they want and then they take off.

The CBS 2 Morning Insiders have discovered thefts from stores have been on the rise in Chicago for years – up 34 percent since the start of 2015.

As CBS 2's Tim McNicholas reported Friday morning, it could be hitting your wallet in the long run.

Niecele Raya learned the hard way: people don't always pay for what they take.

Chicago police are still looking for whoever stole from her custom clothing store in the Loop, Bella Niecele, earlier this year.

"The friends I know that also have businesses, they're like: 'Well, this is what happens. This is how it is. Get used it.' I'm like, 'Why?'" she said.

But Raya's friends might have a point.

CBS 2's Morning Insiders discovered retail theft has been on the rise in Chicago for years, up about 34 percent since the end of 2014 -- and it could be hitting your wallet in the long run.

Police investigated more than 1,800 retail theft cases in downtown alone just last year. City wide: more than 10,700 cases--the highest total since 2009.

So what's causing the spike? We asked Tanya Triche Dawood of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association.

"Low risk, high reward for retail theft," Dawood said.

She says one driver is a decision from Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx.

In December 2016, she announced her office would only prosecute theft cases as felonies if the thief steals $1,000 worth a merchandise or more, despite a statewide threshold of $300.

"We feel the policy encouraged, emboldened more people to steal," Dawood said.

CBS 2 looked into that.

We found that retail theft cases were already rising in the two years before Foxx's plan -- up 6 percent in both 2015 and 2016.

But in 2017, the first year of Foxx's new rule, retail theft cases jumped 16 percent.

The number rose again last year but only by two percent. This time last year, the numbers were very close to where they're at for 2019 so far. December tends to be a big month for shoplifters, so it's unclear what the year-end totals might be for 2019.

"The people who suffer is everyone who is shopping, because prices go up in order to cover for all the loss we've been experiencing," Dawood said.

The state's attorney's office would not agree to an interview with us.

A spokesperson told us in an email that, before they raised the felony bar, the number one felony crime submitted to prosecutors for review was retail theft.

The State's Attorney's office says raising the bar allowed prosecutors to focus more on gun crimes.

The spokesperson said the state's attorney's office has increased its unlawful use of a weapon conviction rates by nine percent.

Raya said her thief took somewhere between $900 and $1,000 worth of merchandise. She said it should be a felony either way.

"I mean, why not?" she said. "Why are you taking from me?"

Clothing store owners aren't the only victims of retail theft.

The owner of a north side grocery chain, who asked to stay anonymous because he doesn't want to be targeted by thieves, said he has also seen more thefts, including some people stealing large amounts of liquor at a time. He feels raising the felony threshold has made the problem worse.

Nakam Toys in Logan Square, on the other hand, has had hundreds of dollars' worth of merchandise stolen over the past few years. Still, a co-owner told CBS 2 agrees with Foxx's threshold and says nothing under $1,000 should be a felony.

Dawood said theft of over-the-counter medication is also up. She said another major cause for retail theft increasing is the opioid crisis.

Click here to see how other states stand when it comes to prosecuting shoplifters as felons.

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