(The Center Square) – With crash-and-grab robberies across Chicago on the rise over the past year, city officials are now weighing a safety plan calling for the installation of concrete bollards in various business sectors.
Over the past year, several high-end stores in the city’s downtown area have been targeted in attacks where thieves used stolen vehicles to smash through a window in order to gain entry and raid the store. More recently, a Prada outlet on the Gold Coast was raided in a smash-and-grab that ended in a shootout involving two officers and the arrest of a 33-year-old suspect.
Storefront Safety Council cofounder Robert Reiter said it’s well past time city officials become more proactive in their approach.
“The city has an obligation to help store owners and that’s because store owners don’t own the sidewalks,” Reiter told The Center Square. “It’s a little bit different if you’re in a standalone building and you got space in a parking lot but if you’re on the streets, the city controls the sidewalks.”
As the problem has become more pronounced, Reiter said store owners have tried to put up their own barriers, only to be told by city officials that they can’t have the temporary structures or use anything more permanent.
“You can’t just close off the sidewalk for personal use, you’ve got to allow people to be on it,” Reiter added. “It’s important for the city to do two things, one is absolutely give permission to use the sidewalk appropriately to protect stores. Some of these guys have been hit three and four and five times and are just being hung out to dry. The city has got to allow the use of the sidewalk for appropriate barrier measures.”
While putting up the beams would come at a cost of up to $1,000 each, Reiter said allowing the problem to fester would come at a far greater cost.
“It kills the city,” he said. “If the problem persists, businesses lose three times. They lose the first time because they pay for the merchandise and it gets stolen. They then have to pay for the replacement merchandise so they can make a living and they have to pay the insurance at an increased rate because of the theft. How many times can someone get everything stolen from their shop and fix the front door before it’s upside down? The city will have a lot of vacancies, people will lose jobs and neighborhoods will go dark.”
Reiter added residents are already paying a heavy price for what he views as the city’s slow response to the problem.
“The city is already experiencing the pain of not doing something, because the public perception that people have is crime is high,” he said. “These stores are already being forced to lock everything up. It isn’t just the expensive designer stores. The trendy stores and high fashion stores start closing down and people get upset. The quality of life goes down.”
Reiter said he is now hoping to see city officials quickly establish a clear set of rules for how barriers can be installed and quickly grant clearance to businesses looking to make such changes using the sidewalk.
“I think that businesses in Chicago are going to find enough friendly voices that the city will loosen up and create a fund for people to tap into to buy and install some barriers and I think the city will loosen up its rule so the people can use the sidewalks to put the barriers in,” he said. “I think the big contribution for the city is going to be setting the standards, clear rules for how things can be installed and speedy clearance for using the sidewalk.”