San Francisco, CA

"Flash Mob" Robberies and Their Impact on Morristown Residents

Morristown Minute

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A police car is parked outside the Louis Vuitton store in San Francisco’s Union Square, the site of a recent mass theft.Photograph: Danielle Echeverria/AP

Over the last two weeks, the San Francisco Bay Area has seen a growing number of flash mob robberies. Last week a string of flash mob robberies targeted Union Square stores like Louis Vuitton, Burberry, and Bloomingdale’s on Friday, 11/19.

Watch NBC's report on the mass robberies at Louis Vuitton on Friday, 11/19:

The next day, Saturday, 11/20, in Walnut Creek, San Francisco, approximately 80 people stormed a Nordstrom’s, assaulting employees and stealing thousands of dollars in merchandise. Of the 80+ people involved, only three were arrested.

Then, Sunday, 11/21, a mob of 40-50 people targeted multiple stores at the Southland Mall in Hayward, CA, momentarily taking over Sam’s Jewelers before taking off with thousands of dollars in stolen merchandise. The robbery was over in minutes, with the criminals fleeing by the time police arrived.

Later that night, Sunday, 11/21, multiple cannabis dispensaries in the Bay Area were targeted by mass robberies. No arrests have been made.

The same day, 11/21, in San Jose, a group entered a Lululemon store in Santana Row stealing again thousands of dollars in merchandise and fleeing before police arrived at the scene.

Watch ABC News' report on the recent robberies in the San Francisco Bay Area:

The Sunday robberies mark the third straight day of “flash mob” robberies in the San Francisco Bay area. This string of robberies, growing in infamy due to social media, has sparked lawmakers and conservative political leaders to call for a more aggressive law enforcement response. A campaign to recall San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin has received enough signatures in the past few weeks to appear on the 2022 ballot.

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Chesa Boudin, among the most progressive DAs in the country, faced opposition from the city’s police...Photograph: Eric Risberg/AP

On the opposing side, others say an increase in aggressive law enforcement action can lead to further criminalization of communities of color while doing little to prevent crime.

Meanwhile, San Francisco police chief Bill Scott said the Union Square shopping locations that have been a recent target will have limited car access going forward and “be swarming with police.”

Commercial burglaries have increased from 2019 and 2020 by about 20% around the U.S., according to the FBI, while other instances of violent crime have dropped. As a response to the string of mass robberies, California lawmakers have signed a law that allows individuals involved in mass robberies to be charged for the groups' crimes as a whole.

But where did this “flash mob” robbery idea come from, and why does it seem to be a new trend?

First of all, this is not a new idea. “Flash mob” robberies, or robberies involving large groups of people, have been a problem for a long time. The trend initially began to take off in 2009 and grew in notoriety in part due to the infamous group of robbers known as the “Rainbow Girls.” This group of women, named from their brightly colored hair, have hit dozens of Bay area stores like Ultra, where they stole $11,000 worth of merchandise in under two minutes.

Watch a video of the Rainbow Crew robberies here:

The group, which began with a group of mostly women, has grown in size and was relabeled as the “Rainbow Crew.” The group was responsible for stealing over $130,000 in merchandise from Ferragamo, Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior, and Sunglass Hut back in 2016. The “Rainbow Crew” hits retail stores in groups of about 15 people, each individual stuffing hundreds of dollars of merchandise into bags and empty pockets and fleeing before police can respond. These crimes usually last under two minutes and often store owners and employees only realize they are being robbed once the suspects are fleeing.

By 2016, the “Rainbow Crew” had stolen over a million dollars worth of goods from Bay Area stores, and arrests have not been successful. But this trend isn’t only impacting San Francisco.

In Hingham, Massachusetts, in September of 2016, a group of a dozen men robbed an Apple store taking off with 22 phones in minutes. A month later, in Natick, MA, a group of men stole $13,000 worth of phones from an Apple Store, again fleeing the scene in less than two minutes.

In Kansas City, 2016, a 7-Eleven was robbed by 50+ people with no arrests made. And in Washington, D.C. in 2016 a Diesel store was targeted by a group of 20 robbers, again no arrests were made.

Videos of these mass robberies spread quickly over social media, mostly shared security footage by store owners in hopes of identifying suspects. Bystanders have released videos of the recent robberies in the Bay Area showing chaos between the masses of fleeing robbers and overwhelmed police.

These mobs of robbers are largely successful, only a few are ever caught and charged, and those who escape get away with enough merchandise to view the act as successful. The “success” of these mass robberies is another factor contributing to the growing rate of mass robberies across the U.S.

Unfortunately, these mass robberies only make shopping more dangerous and expensive for consumers. On average, loss of inventory due to robberies raises prices for consumers $50. The recent increase in this dangerous trend comes at the worst time possible as a global supply chain crisis also raises prices on nearly all goods. This makes for an expensive and potentially dangerous holiday shopping season. What is of even more concern is the approaching annual chaos of Black Friday. A day where stores have extreme sales and already see mobs of people rushing into and out of stores.

New Jersey, and Morristown, are not exempt from the impact of these mass robberies. For one, the increasing rate of these “flash mob” robberies is spreading across the country. We’ve seen more reports from local and national news on the growing rate of mass robberies in California, but these reports are due to the anomalous cases of repeat mass robberies one day after another.

Furthermore, even if the mass robbery epidemic doesn’t reach the heights in NJ that it has reached in California, prices in stores this holiday season will still be substantially higher for everyone in the U.S. Most of the stores targeted are large chains and luxury retailers. These chains can absorb the hit of these robberies by spreading price hikes across the country throughout their storefronts. Combining this rise in cost at stores due to robberies with the increasing chaos of the global supply chain means Morristown residents will have to pay more out of pocket to get those gifts under the tree or into the hands of loved ones this year.

For more updates follow Morristown Minute.

Sources:

https://www.crimemuseum.org/crime-library/organized-crime/flash-robs/

https://www.marketwatch.com/story/the-nasty-rise-of-flash-mob-robbers-2…

https://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2021/11/22/it-was-insane-dozens-of-lo…

https://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2021/11/23/update-flash-mob-smash-and…

https://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2021/11/22/smash-grab-thieves-target-…

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/nov/10/chesa-boudin-san-franci…

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