On Tuesday September 21st, Target announced that it was closing nine stores in four states in October because of a new form of organized crime—smash and grab robberies, flash robberies.
The sort of robberies that hit a Wawa convenience store in Philadelphia on Sunday September 24, when it was invaded by between 50 and 100 teenagers who swept goods off the counters and threw drinks at each other. One girl even twerked on a counter. And the kids filmed their deeds. By the time they left, they’d utterly trashed the place. Wawa then closed the store permanently.
Target says that it is losing half a billion dollars a year to these robberies. And The National Retail Federation says that retailers across America are losing $112 billion a year to the increase of this new form theft.
Target and Wawa are not the only chains closing stores. Nordstrom closed two stores in San Francisco. Walmart closed two stores in Portland, Oregon. Old Navy closed its flagship store in San Francisco’s downtown despite the fact that San Francisco is where the chain was started. And Whole Foods and Walmart are closing locations, though Walmart only cites crime as one small factor.
People on the right are blaming this spate of robberies on the Democratic party’s bail reforms, which say that if you have committed a low-level, non-violent crime, you can go scot free until your trial. You do not have to put up any bail money.
The Marshall Project believes that zero bail has nothing to do with the new organized crime. The Project points out that, “An analysis of arrest data in New York shows few people committed new crimes while out on bail.”
Los Angeles Police Protective League spokesperson Tom Saggau disagrees. Fox11 TV in LA sums up his view in a headline: “Zero cash bail to blame for ‘brazen’ smash and grab robberies in LA, police union says.”
Ben Dugan, the head of the Coalition of Law Enforcement and Retail, blames the rise in this new form of robbery on Covid. Covid, he reasons, forced people to shop online. This increased demand for goods on the Internet. Then some clever criminal innovator created a new form of smash and grab robbery to fit this demand.
He or she combined flash mobs, online markets, Waze, cellphones, and automobiles, plus the eagerness of kids to make $100 for one evening’s work. He set up a system in which between a dozen and a hundred kids who have never met before converge on a store simultaneously, snatch as many goods as they can, leave in two minutes, then are carried away by a fleet of highly coordinated, rented getaway cars with their license plates covered or replaced, cars whose routes have been carefully mapped out in advance to make sure the fleeing thieves and their goods do not get stopped by traffic.
The organizer then arranges the sale of the loot via online marketplaces like Facebook Marketplace or eBay.
This is a lucrative business. The attorney general of California recently announced the arrest and conviction of “five people who stole more than $8 million of merchandise from retailers.”[i]
Law enforcement agencies all over the country are working to counter this new form of 21st century organized crime.
Congress has passed a law that went into effect June 27th. The INFORM act requires online marketplaces to verify the real identities of high-volume sellers. This would make it difficult for sellers of stolen goods to hide behind fake identities. Backing the Inform Act is the full force of the Federal Trade Commission.
But all of this means that brick and mortar stores are experiencing something you heard about years ago. They are losing out to the Internet. But this time to a use of the internet to organize crime.
Howard Bloom of the Howard Bloom Institute has been called the Einstein, Newton, and Freud of the 21st century by Britain’s Channel 4 TV. One of his seven books–Global Brain—was the subject of a symposium thrown by the Office of the Secretary of Defense including representatives from the State Department, the Energy Department, DARPA, IBM, and MIT. His work has been published in The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Wired, Psychology Today, and the Scientific American. He does news commentary at 1:06 am Eastern Time every Wednesday night on 545 radio stations on Coast to Coast AM. For more, see http://howardbloom.institute.