(CBS) — The price to pay for shoplifting in Cook County has changed.

But as CBS 2’s Vince Gerasole reports, some in law enforcement worry it could actually encourage thieves to break the law.

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When caught on video, brazen shoplifting makes headlines, but a good number of these crimes are often committed by one-time offenders for minor amounts.

They end up with a felony record for life, and the paperwork bogs down the system.

“There will be a concerted effort to change policy, but changing culture takes time,” Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx says.

In a letter circulated to law enforcement agencies, her office says it will not approve felony charges unless the stolen property is valued at more than $1,000.

That is despite a statewide felony retail theft threshold of $300.

“The concept of using your discretion in charging is nothing new,” CBS 2 Legal Analyst Irv Miller says when asked about Foxx’s policy.

But he says her coming out with a defined policy is something new and goes beyond streamlining the system.

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“What she is saying is we don’t need a world full of convicted felons,” Miller says.

Compared with neighboring states, Illinois’ $300 felony threshold is low. In Wisconsin, it’s $500, and in Indiana, $750.

In a statement, Foxx says she’s making the move “to ensure consistency in charging and to prioritize resources.”

Several law enforcement sources tell CBS 2 they worry it sends the message that stealing’s OK. Miller sees it differently.

“It’s not a license to steal because you are removing the felony tag, but you’re not necessarily removing the misdemeanor tag,” he says.

A misdemeanor conviction carries up to a year in jail.


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