Flash mobs, the recent trend of organizing strangers to assemble suddenly in a public space for the purpose of group entertainment, have now become an instrument of crime. Organized through social networking sites like Twitter, flash mobs in previous cases involved some sort of spontaneous artistic expression. These gatherings range from synchronized dancing to hundred-person pillow fights in public areas and usually disperse within minutes. The most recent trend however has hijacked the methods of a typical flash mob and created a brash new form of looting.
Known as a “flash rob” groups numbering 20-100 organize and assemble to perform a robbery instead of an entertaining dance. Typically carried out by groups of teenagers, this version of a flash mob selects a target and specific time to commit their crimes. In many cases members of the flash mob wear similar articles of clothing to hide their identities even though they commit their actions in broad daylight and under full view of the store surveillance cameras. They often target small businesses and convenience stores and steal several hundred dollars’ worth of goods and cause damage to the stores themselves. The group quickly streams through the doors of their selected target and steal whatever they can before store owners even have the time to comprehend what is taking place. Those involved in these “flash robs” not only leave with stolen property but also act as vandals. They physically damage the businesses and break displays and shelving units creating miniature riots within the confines of a single store.
The speed of these robberies and number of individuals in a flash rob has made it difficult for law enforcement to respond to these incidents. Since it is hard to catch those involved at the time of the physical crime, officers have turned to surveillance records and social media. For example, a flash rob occurred in Germantown, Maryland in 2011 involving over 30 teens who ransacked a convenience store and stole drinks, snacks, and candy. This felony act, recorded in its entirety by surveillance cameras, has been uploaded to YouTube with hopes that community members will be able to identify those in the video and bring them to justice. Recent legislation has ruled that each individual involved in “flash mob crimes” in the state of Maryland will be responsible for the crimes of the group as a whole. Using technology to catch perpetrators gives police a new tool in arresting suspects. The LAPD, for example, has recently launched an internet unit with hopes of observing the development of possible criminal acts. The technology which has helped organize these robberies is now being used by law enforcement officials to prevent them in the future and hold criminals responsible for their actions.
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