‘Flash Robs’ a Distressing Trend Striking Retail Stores in Many Major US Cities

By Todd Crawford | November 24, 2021
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Thieves rob a Target store as protesters face off against police in Oakland California on May 30, 2020, over the death of George Floyd. Recently, “flash robs” have been occurring in many major US cities with perpetrators making off with $100’s of thousands in merchandise.(Image: JOSH EDELSON/AFP via Getty Images)

A spree of organized retail crime, known as “flash robs” is hitting numerous communities across the United States with mobs of thieves, organized through social media, making off with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of goods in brazen nighttime and broad daylight operations. 

Wikipedia defines a “flash rob” as “an organized form of theft in which a group of participants enter a retail shop or convenience store en masse and steal goods and other items.”

“The thefts are believed to be part of sophisticated criminal networks that recruit mainly young people to steal merchandise in stores throughout the country and then sell it in online marketplaces,” Newsweek reported. 

On Nov. 22, in Los Angeles, an estimated 18 individuals swarmed a Nordstrom department store stealing thousands of dollars in merchandise, CNN reported.

On Nov. 20, three suspects were arrested after a mob ransacked another Nordstrom department store in Walnut Creek, east of San Francisco. An estimated 80 individuals participated in the robbery and fled the scene in at least 10 different vehicles, police said.

Similar raids occurred Friday night near San Francisco’s Union Square. Thieves targeted Louis Vuitton, Burberry and Bloomingdale’s stores as well as Walgreens and several cannabis dispensaries.

On Sunday, in San Jose’s Santana Row, a flash rob targeted the Southland Mall in Hayward and a Lululemon store where an estimated $40,000 in merchandise was stolen. 

Hayward police told KPIX that they responded around 5:30 p.m. on Sunday to multiple calls from stores in Southland Mall. 

“Witnesses said a large mob of people caused a huge disturbance inside the mall, with some briefly taking over a jewelry store,” KPIX reported. 

Witnesses on the scene described a mob of about 30 or 40 kids robbing a Sam’s Jewelers.

Last week, an estimated 14 masked robbers swarmed a Louis Vuitton store in suburban Oak Brook Illinois, just outside Chicago, making off with more than $110,000 in handbags and other merchandise.   

Oak Brook Police are requesting tips from witnesses and are attempting to track down the thieves via license plates observed at the scene. “They have also formed a task force with the Illinois attorney general’s office to try to halt these types of incidents,” Newsweek reported. 

A video of thieves in Connecticut, loading their vehicle with stolen goods, in broad daylight, surfaced online on Nov. 10. 

Video surfaced on Twitter on Nov. 23 depicting what looks like dozens of thieves ransacking a small undisclosed retail store in Oakland, California.

The brazen robberies came after Walgreens closed several San Francisco stores due to organized retail theft, leaving neighborhoods without a vital source for food, medicine and other essentials. Walgreens recently closed five San Francisco stores bringing the total number of stores closed due to retail theft up to at least 10 in the city since 2019.

Best Buy, the popular consumer electronics big box store, is blaming recent profit declines on organized robberies. 

Best Buy CEO Corie Barry told Newsweek “We are definitely seeing more and more particularly organized retail crime and incidents of shrink in our locations,” adding that, “This is a real issue that hurts and scares people.”

Flash robs, not a new phenomena

While incidents of flash robs have been surging recently in many American cities the phenomenon is not a new one. 

In August of 2011, the Christian Science Monitor, reported an incident where approximately three dozen people walked into a Maryland 7-11 convenience store and walked out with an undetermined amount of goods. 

In June, 2011, The Wall Street Journal reported that Chicago police arrested 29 people in connection with a rash of assaults and robberies in and around the city’s tony shopping district. 

Also in 2011, Time Magazine, reported incidents of flash robberies in St. Paul, Minn., Las Vegas and Washington.

In April of that year, a G-Star Raw store in Washington D.C. was targeted by a flash rob with perpetrators making off with an estimated $20,000 worth of goods. 

Don’t call it ‘looting’

While the flash robs may look like looting many state laws characterize the behavior as anything but.

According to the California Penal Code, it defines “looting” as “theft or burglary…during a ‘state of emergency,’ ‘local emergency,’ or ‘evacuation order’ resulting from an earthquake, fire, flood, riot or other natural or manmade disaster.”  

What is occurring today is organized retail theft involving dozens of perpetrators in what can only be described as organized crime. 

Martin Reynolds, co-executive director of the Robert C. Maynard Institute of Journalism Education told Fox News, “This seems like it’s an organized smash and grab robbery. This doesn’t seem like looting.”

Lorenzo Boyd, PhD, Professor of Criminal Justice & Community Policing at the University of New Haven, when asked if the recent emergence of flash robs was a reaction to the Rittenhouse verdict said, “These types of massive, organized smash and grabs were happening before the Rittenhouse situation, because it happens cyclically,” adding that, “It’s a false equivalency. It’s people trying to politicize crime.”