Security is being boosted in retail outlets across the country this holiday shopping season, as stores and law enforcement face a pandemic of organized retail crime by smash and grab mobs.
Major stores like Home Depot, CVS, Target, and Best Buy have been some of the worse afflicted by the “flash mob” raids, which have increased in scope and in size in recent weeks.
Stores in California, Illinois, and Minnesota have been repeatedly attacked in the last few weeks, with the Bay Area being hit hard in particular.
At the end of November, a well-coordinated gang, raided a San Francisco-area Nordstrom, stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of items.
Bystanders watched helplessly as dozens of looters in cars drove up to the store and overwhelmed the staff, ransacking shelves and terrorizing customers before driving away, with police making only a handful of arrests.
Only a few days later, a brazen mob of forty looters ransacked a Louis Vuitton and other stores in San Francisco’s Union Square.
San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin, charged nine people for allegedly participating in the Louis Vuitton incident, which cost retailers more than $1 million in losses.
In the suburbs of Minneapolis, dozens of people stole goods from Best Buy stores over the Thanksgiving weekend.
The size of the groups and the organized nature of the crimes have overwhelmed store staff and security personnel and have put a strain on local law enforcement.
Critics are blaming the increase in serious property crimes on left-wing district attorneys and permissive policies by state governments that encourage such activities.
In California, a 2014 law downgraded the theft of less than $950 worth of goods from a felony to a misdemeanor.
“We’re trying to control it the best we can, but it’s growing every day,” said Ben Dugan, president of The Coalition of Law Enforcement and Retail, speaking to the WSJ.
He said that retailers are expanding their security presence as a short-term response to the type of theft seen over the past few weeks.
Law enforcement and retail executives suspect that these incidents are being conducted by organized criminal networks that recruit young people to steal items to be sold for profit online.
It is thought that the gangs are exploiting the recent growth in e-commerce during the pandemic, which has led to more demand for underpriced goods online.
The National Retail Federation estimates that organized retail crime, which is a crime distinct from shoplifting, has cost retailers an average of $700,000 per $1 billion in sales.
National and local retailers are currently lobbying for new federal and state legislation that would make the online reselling of stolen goods more difficult.
Many of these stolen goods are being resold online anonymously through Amazon.com, Facebook Marketplace, and on other platforms.
Spokespersons from Meta Platforms, Inc., which hosts Facebook Marketplace and from Amazon, have told the WSJ that they are assisting the crackdown on the sale of stolen merchandise sold on their websites.
They said that they are working closely with local law enforcement and affected retailers, and are encouraging their customers to report suspiciously listed items.
A coalition of district attorneys in the Bay Area are working together to combat organized retail theft to break up the criminal networks that make it profitable.
The California Highway Patrol announced that they are working with retailers and local California law enforcement to round up the smash and grab suspects.