Flash Mob Robberies

Well, it’s that time of year again. Hayes International has released its 26th Annual Retail Theft Survey, and the crime of shoplifting continues to set new records. We are also finding that as incidents of shoplifting increase, acts of intimidation and violence are also becoming more prevalent.

Sure we still have hundreds of thousands of thieves that best fit into such categories as amateur, hardcore, organized crime professional, and drug addict. Now, the shoplifter has taken on a new face; “Flash Mobster”. These thieves are more brazen than the average shoplifter, while threatening,  intimidating and harming anyone who gets in their way as they sweep entire shelves of goods into bags, push loaded rolling racks of merchandise out the door at a high rate of speed—there is little, if anything, a store employee can do to prevent these actions once underway. Examples:

–   A group of at least four to six people tried to steal armfuls of clothes from a store and started shooting a gun when employees tried to stop them. A male friend of the store’s owner was killed and a female customer was shot in the leg.

–   One specialty store reported that 11 teens stormed through its doors knocking over fixtures, stealing items, and threatening customers.

–   In a YouTube tape, 50 teens can be seen entering a convenience store. Within less than 4 minutes they had taken whatever they wanted and left the store.

–  Gang of brazen female shoplifters invaded a large retail store and stole thousands of dollars in merchandise.

–  A group of men ripped off thousands of dollars in merchandise in a string of flash mob robberies at one city and two suburban sporting goods stores. When an employee attempted to stop the robbers at one store, he was trampled.

–   Five men rushed into a department store, snatched dozens of high-end handbags and fled to their getaway car that was parked outside the door.

The M.O. of the Flash Mobster varies: At times these thieves will casually filter somewhat unnoticed into the store, pretend to browse, and then go into action by grabbing armfuls of merchandise, or taking rolling racks of clothing and running out the door. There are also those large groups who most brazenly walk into the store in a forceful and intimating manner, and take as many items as they can carry or place on rolling racks.

Investigators indicate that these types of crimes are often planned ahead  by using social media alerts, and that all of those involved do not personally  know each other.

Technically, I find that these types of crimes better fit the legal definition of robbery than as a form of shoplifting or larceny. And, that is a good thing! Those convicted of robbery will likely spend much greater time behind bars than will the shoplifter.

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Retailers are encouraged to brief their staffs regarding specific policies and procedures as to what actions those present are to take in the event such a crime gets underway in their store. Also, on the positive side, as you can see on several YouTube videos, a number of stores have CCTV cameras and recorders installed. These devices are most helpful to police when it comes to identifying and prosecuting those involved.

Caution! Never underestimate the potential violent actions of any suspected shoplifter or other criminal.  Remember your ABC’s: Always Be Careful!   $

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