Call them flash assaults, flash robbery, or just plain shoplifting, retail invasions have been reported at stores in Chicago, Washington DC, Las Vegas, St. Paul MN, Philadelphia, PA, New York City, and Montgomery County, MD. Reported targets run the gamut from Victoria’s Secret to 7-11.
So far, law enforcement isn’t sure how the large groups of teenagers comprised of up to 100 marauders are notified to descend on an unsuspecting store. Are Twitter and Facebook being used to spread the word, or is this simply a viral “mob-up” via cellphone? So far, nobody knows for sure.
What we do know is that, without warning, large numbers of teenagers arrive at a retail location, spend a few minutes tearing items off the shelves, and then leave. Store clerks are caught off guard and some say it happens so fast, they have no time to think.
Here are some in-store video recordings of flash mob incidents from around the country.
August 18, Washington, DC
Ten women converge on a convenience store, grab candy, chips, sodas and ice cream — about five items each — and run out in a pack.
August 13, Montgomery County Maryland
A flash mob of 25 to 35 teenagers looted a 7-11 in a Washington, DC suburb.
May 6, Las Vegas, NE
At 3:00 a.m., two to three dozen teenagers walk into a convenience store and steal what they want. A few minutes later they return and steal more. The first incursion lasted about 3 1/2 minutes, less the second time. Police are tagging the behavior “a swarm .. a group thug mentality.” Police say many of the teens were found with more than $600 worth of goods.
April 29, Washington, D.C.
Nineteen teenagers entered a G-Star Raw clothing store, leisurely grabbing merchandise, looking for their size, loading up their arms, and leaving with a reported $20,000 in high-end denim and other popular booty. Police arrived 10 minutes after being called. Patrols in the area have been stepped up.
May 24, New York City
A group of young men and women entered a Dunkin Donuts, trashed the inside of the store, and took whatever they could get their hands on.
June 23, Philadelphia, PA
Forty people stormed into a Sears department store, stealing thousands of dollars worth of merchandise. Police superintendent Michael Chitwood said, “They came in on the El train and hit Sears. They stole sneakers, socks, watches, whatever they could get their hands on and left … They planned this out earlier in the day on a social networking site.” Among those arrested was an 11-year-old. Others ranged from 12 to 16 years.
In an effort to identify the perpetrators, a video showing the teens outside the store has also been posted on YouTube.
Could flash robbery indicate serious social issues ahead? Perhaps, but, for now, it’s too early — and a bit too wide-spread — to jump to conclusions.
This story of a racially motivated attack executed by 400 to 500 young people at the Wisconsin State Fair in Milwaukee on August 5 has both caused a furor and raised the question of larger social issues.
The following report on flash mob incidents in Chicago provides a quick overview of concern that the trend could grow uglier.
An occurrence at a Street Fair on June 28 in Cleveland, OH, appeared to carry shades of the same issues, but, in a report at cleveland.com, a business owner in the area said reports were exaggerated.
“The crowd was well behaved all day, but some kids were milling around late, said Steve Presser. An area resident, Garry Kanter also reported that he was at the fair all afternoon and “nothing bad happened.”
In covering the story, Pat Galbincea, a reporter at The Plain Dealer, observed that “The initial, online story was viewed by more than 120,000 on Cleveland.com by 6 p.m. Monday. Many readers found the story through a link on the Drudge Report website, which packaged the Coventry story with “Massive brawl at DC’s Caribbean festival,” “Philly mob attack,” and “Suburb under ‘state of emergency.’”
Despite what appear to be increasing incidents this summer, the flash mobbery behavior isn’t new to 2011, Back in November 2007, 100 teens were captured on film robbing a convenience store in Tucson, AZ.
Finally, the story of a flash mob intrusion at a Victoria’s Secret in tony Georgetown, DC, made the rounds, but closer examination demonstrated that two men and two women with baby strollers were the perpetrators. Not exactly a mob, and probably not teenagers.
Meanwhile, according to reporter Tom Ramstack, police are looking for a way to cope with flash assaults. A conference this month sponsored by the Dallas Police Department will tell local police how to use social media to deal with flash mob robberies. “We can’t tolerate this stuff,” Chicago Police Chief Garry McCarthy told the Chicago Sun-Times after a flash mob robbery this month. “We’re not going to let it go.”
Flash mob counter-tactics: increasing numbers of foot patrols in retail areas, teenage curfews, greater vigilance, stronger penalties, and intelligent monitoring of social media by law enforcement.