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Flash mobs: An increasingly common strategy for organized retail crime?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The majority of organized retail crime stories I've written about recently involve groups of thieves who travel around, hitting store after store after store. The I-95 corridor, for example, is a prime route for these gangs to travel because it's easy for them to hit multiple states and allude the jurisdiction of any one police department. The picture I've drawn in my head is of this group of hardened criminals, packed in a white van, plotting their next stop. But, turns out, that may not be the case at all.

I just read this Chicago Sun-Times article about a group of 70 youths who “stormed” a McDonald’s restaurant. It's actually unknown what this group was trying to do, other than cause the restaurant to voluntarily shutdown for three hours, but apparently this isn't the first time the Chicago police have dealt with flash mobs in the area:

“Both CPD and [Loyola] campus safety believe this activity is related to the same group of individuals who have attempted to create havoc in the area before,” wrote Robert Fine, the director of campus security for Loyola and a veteran Chicago cop, according to the article. “In February, we alerted you to a similar incident in which these ‘Flash Mob Offenders’ allegedly committed thefts within local retail stores around the Water Tower Campus community. The offenders exit the Chicago Red Line stop, they go to various shops or restaurants, usually clothing stores, and then storm the stores, taking as many items as they can carry. The incidents seem to occur most often on weekends, between 5 p.m. and 11 p.m.”

I'm wondering if this flash mob approach is becoming more common in retail theft than "traditional" organized retail crime. The theory, I'm guessing, is that if you show up with a huge group of people and grab as much as you can, the store can't possibly stop or even think about arresting everyone. Scary stuff if you're in loss prevention.

And, just in case you're really out of the loop, flash mobs have become a bit of a sensation in recent years, the most well known being gatherings of people in malls or other public spaces who sporadically perform some sort of act (usually a choreographed dance) and then disperse. It's quite entertaining, really. Usually these events are organized via social media like Twitter and Facebook. For your reference, here's my favorite from the Liverpool Train Station (and I think it's actually an ad, so it may not be a "real" flash mob, but it's entertaining):