Chicago police use task force to push back in battle against brazen retail burglaries

CHICAGO – The small team of Chicago Police officers has kept busy over the last two years.

Formed in late 2021 in response to an ongoing spate of smash-and-grab burglaries, CPD’s Organized Retail Crime Task Force has so far recovered $3.8 million worth of merchandise stolen from retailers in and around the city, according to CPD.

Sgt. Ryan Delaney, who heads the task force of fewer than a dozen officers, said the group’s long-term investigation has focused largely on illegal fencing operations — the resale of ill-gotten goods.

“Our mission was to investigate the organizations that profit from the theft, fraud, deception and money-laundering affecting the retail establishments, focusing on the fencing aspect of it (and) the crews that are dictating what should be stolen and then profiting off that,” Delaney said.

In the 24 months since the task force was formed, the investigation has led officers throughout the city and suburbs, even crossing state lines. So far, 180 open cases have resulted in an arrest, Delaney added.

Nearly $50,000 worth of merchandise was stolen from the Prada store in the Gold Coast in a smash-and-grab that occurred just days after the task force was formed. Three men were soon arrested and charged, and court records show two of them have since pleaded guilty and were sentenced to prison terms.

Five months after he pleaded guilty to a robbery charge, one of those men was charged with murder in connection with a fatal shooting in Kenwood in April 2022. That case is pending, court records show.

Smash-and-grab burglaries remain relatively common despite the dozens arrests netted by the task force. One burglary attempt last month, also in the Gold Coast, led to a shootout between police and the alleged suspects.

A CPD officer was shot in the leg, and one of the suspects — who was also shot — was charged the following day with attempted murder, aggravated battery, burglary, unlawful use of a weapon and being a fugitive from justice. That case is still pending, court records show.

Another prong of the investigation led the task force to the city’s West Side, where, Delaney said, a retail establishment was illegally moving more than $2 million-worth of stolen pharmaceutical supplies each month.

“All these people would bring it in, sell it, repackage it, and it was being sold back to the companies that it was stolen from,” Delaney said.

Big box stores are just as susceptible to the crews’ tactics, he added. Another task force probe involving several dozen Home Depot stores in the city and suburbs revealed a phony refund scheme that led to more than $6 million in losses. Five former Home Depot cashiers and three other people were charged with a continuing financial crimes enterprise.

Aside from forming the task force, CPD has tried other tactics in recent years to tamp down the theft and violence seen in the downtown area since the summer of 2020, when widespread looting broke out across the city in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by a Minneapolis police officer.

In Chicago, scores of police officers were previously assigned to park their squad cars — lights activated — along busy downtown thoroughfares. Earlier this week, CPD Superintendent Larry Snelling announced that practice would soon end.

SVRN, a luxury retail store that opened in 2019 in the West Loop, was hit by burglars four times last year.

“We want to keep growing and be more of a staple in the community, but if this keeps happening over and over again, what are we supposed to do?” SVRN owner David Kim previously told the Tribune.

More than 7,400 burglaries were reported citywide in 2023, a 2% decrease from 2022, according to CPD data.