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Harwood Heights adds retail theft as ordinance violation

Monday, September 18, 2017

Harwood Heights has become the latest village to add retail theft as an ordinance violation, stepping in to fill a gap with the Cook County State's Attorney's Office no longer prosecuting those cases at lower levels.

At their Sept. 14 village board meeting, Harwood Heights trustees, invoking the village's home rule power, amended village code to include petit theft in its offenses against property.

In the ordinance, officials noted the village has incurred "increased personnel and court costs attempting to prosecute incidents without prior success," under the current policy. Under the change, "a person commits the offense of petit theft when he takes property by theft with an aggregate value of less than $300."

Neighboring Elmwood Park last month added retail theft as an ordinance violation.

In December of last year, newly elected State's Attorney Kim Foxx announced that her office was raising the bar for charging shoplifters with a felony crime. Prosecutors were told that retail theft charges would remain a misdemeanor unless the value of stolen goods exceeded $1,000 or the alleged shoplifter had 10 prior felony violations.

The change has left "some stores upset," said Harwood Heights Police Chief Frank Biagi, in support of the ordinance amendment, "because they have return shoplifters and they say to us, 'We had an incident happen today. Why aren't we charging the person?' "

He said the ordinance change gives the village "a little bit more" in the way of a deterrent, giving the village the ability to hear cases and administer fines.

At the same meeting, trustees approved another ordinance change, making it unlawful to operate or park a vehicle with expired registration on any street within Harwood Heights. Currently, "we get complaints a lot about cars on the street and expired plates," Biagi said, "and unless we have somebody driving that vehicle, we can't do anything."

Any person found in violation of the new ordinance may be fined $50 per occurrence.

The change gives the village "at least an avenue," to make sure people "have everything updated," Biagi said.



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