Flash Mobs Turned Criminal: The Rise of Flash Robberies

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They gather in masses, organized through social media or during large events to shock and stop witnesses in their tracks. But these aren’t satirical flash mobs — they’re planned heists, and they’re gaining momentum in youth circles across the country.

Stores in cities from St. Paul, Minn., to Las Vegas and Washington, have been the first to experience this frightening — and dangerous — new trend, which has developed in part because of the growing popularity of flash mobs, or large gatherings in public places, which often include unusual acts or choreographed dances. (Think Glee‘s recent mall dance performance.)

But while flash mobs are mostly peaceful and created for pure entertainment, flash robberies — otherwise known as “flash robs” — are just the opposite. A flash rob occurs when a large group of young people swarms a store, grabs as much merchandise as they can carry and runs off within minutes, leaving shopkeepers stunned and with thousands of dollars worth of losses.

(VIDEO: When flash mobs meet a wedding proposal)

Just weeks ago, more than a dozen young people overtook the G-Star Raw store in Washington, D.C., and made out with more than $20,000 worth of merchandise. Two weeks earlier in Georgetown, a group of about 20 to 25 stormed a T-shirt shop to steal Georgetown University gear, then effectively pushed the owner out of the way as she hopelessly attempted to block the door. (See the news report from My Fox DC below.)

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Clothing stores aren’t the only targets, either. In February, KARE-11 in Minneapolis-St. Paul reported numerous flash rob incidents at local convenience stores (check out the news report at the top of the page). In one such occurrence, a clerk who tried to stop a gang of 20 teens was physically assaulted by one of the thieves, who then pushed over a display on his way out the door.

(MORE: See the flash mob rules)

Not only are these robberies blatant acts of thievery, but to a point they’re almost shameless, often occurring in the daytime hours with little to no regard for security cameras or fear of getting caught. Because of this, “flash robs” have not only become fodder for YouTube, but have also helped authorities identify and catch some of the perps.

For the most part, there’s not much that store owners can do to prevent these attacks — or stop one that is in progress – except to keep their safety as the number one priority. As Andy Skoogman, spokesperson for the St. Paul Police Department tells KARE-11, “The inclination might be to try to stop it. We don’t want people to do that. We want store employees to be witnesses to shoplifting, not victims of assault.” (via NACS Online)