‘Imitation is certainly a large part’ of what’s going on with the wild spree of smash-and-grab robberies, crime expert says

A security guard patrols the front entrance of Nordstrom on Tuesday after an organized group of thieves attempted a smash-and-grab robbery late Monday night at The Grove location November 23, 20201 in Los Angeles, California.
A security guard patrols the front entrance of Nordstrom on Tuesday after an organized group of thieves attempted a smash-and-grab robbery late Monday night at The Grove location November 23, 20201 in Los Angeles, California. Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
  • California retailers have seen a spate of smash-and-grab burglaries instigated by mobs of dozens of people.
  • High-end stores like Louis Vuitton, Neiman Marcus, Burberry, and Nordstrom have been targeted. 
  • An expert on robberies said circulating videos of the crimes may inspire copycats. 

High-end merchandisers— mostly in California — have been hit with a spate of smash-and-grab robberies instigated by mobs of people who steal thousands of dollars worth of products in mere minutes. An expert on robberies and gangs said media coverage of the incidents may be spurring the string of attacks. 

“The thing most likely for them to go away is a lack of media coverage,” Arizona State University’s Scott Decker told Insider on Wednesday. “The kids sitting in Kokomo, Indiana or Tyler, Texas may not have ever dreamt of this, but now you see it on TV, and imitation is certainly a large part of what goes on in crime.” 

Decker said mass robberies don’t typically occur often but “come with a lot of notoriety because of their brazen character.” 

Decker said one of the reasons why these offenses have drawn so much attention is that “they look so different from the typical robbery or the typical burglary that takes place in a commercial establishment.” He added that bystanders who witness this type of crime tend to “freeze.” 

On November 19, a Louis Vuitton store in San Francisco’s Union Square area was targeted by a group who smashed the establishment’s windows, clearing out the store. Burberry, Yves Saint Laurent, and Bloomingdales were other high-end retailers that were targeted in the area. Other establishments including Walgreens, Wellspring pharmacy, and multiple cannabis dispensaries were also hit.

In a statement to Insider, the San Francisco Police Department spokesperson said that at least nine people were arrested in connection to the looting incidents.

On Tuesday, the District Attorney announced that the nine suspects linked to the Louis Vuitton incident were charged, NBC Bay Area reported. One alleged suspect was connected to a robbery at Walgreen’s, according to the report, and, at least three of the suspects were involved in a dispensary burglary. 

“We are following up on significant leads, which includes video evidence, and we are confident there will be more arrests,” the spokesperson said. “We are working closely with community stakeholders and community members, as well as federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies that are experiencing similar incidents.”

In order to prevent other robberies, roads will be closed around Union Square between 7:00 p.m. to 6 a.m., and more police officers are expected to be present around the area, the spokesperson said. 

One day later, 80 people were involved in a smash-and-grab at a Nordstrom in Walnut Creek, California. Police reported that two employees were assaulted and one was pepper-sprayed by the suspects. In addition, the Walnut Creek Police Department said three people linked to the “organized theft” were arrested, and Nordstrom estimated that they lost between $US100,000 ($AU138,987) and $US200,000 ($AU277,974) in merchandise, a spokesperson previously told Insider. 

In the following days, a California jewelry store was targeted in a Hayward mall, followed by a Lululemon, Prime 356, and a Macy’s. At least a dozen stores were robbed in the span of a week, including some in other states. In Chicago, thieves made off with $US120,000 ($AU166,784) worth of merchandise from a Louis Vuitton. 

Decker said increasing camera surveillance on the streets and in stores can be a deterrent to smash-and-grab crimes, but circulating videos of the robberies could entice copycats.

“The most powerful images are watching those videos,” Decker said, referring to security footage that shows dozens of looters stream into a clothing store in Oakland, California, and ransacking it. “It may be that someone who is an offender who…sees it on TV and says, ‘Hey, the cops in my city aren’t that sophisticated,’ or ‘We could get away with one if we just go in real quickly and get out quickly.'”

“I think ultimately the more they’re imitated, the less discipline the groups involved will use, and then they’ll get caught,” he added.