CNN: Why some US cities are facing a spree of 'smash-and-grab' crimes

Posted 8 days ago

From WWW.CNN.COM

(CNN)A wave of "smash-and-grab" crimes is plaguing upscale stores in major US cities, with mobs of thieves making off with expensive goods in brazen, nighttime raids.

At least 18 people broke into a Nordstrom department store in Los Angeles Monday night and stole thousands of dollars in merchandise, the city's police chief said.

The thefts followed a rash of similar incidents over the weekend in the San Francisco Bay Area. A group of thieves swarmed the Southland Mall in Hayward on Sunday evening, wielding hammers to smash cases at a jewelry store before grabbing items and fleeing.

Three suspects were arrested Saturday night after a mob ransacked a Nordstrom department store in Walnut Creek, east of San Francisco. Some 80 suspects were involved, and they fled the outdoor mall in at least 10 different vehicles, police said. That robbery came after similar raids Friday night near San Francisco's Union Square, where thieves targeted Louis Vuitton, Burberry and Bloomingdale's stores, a Walgreens and cannabis dispensaries.

And California isn't the only place grappling with "smash-and-grab" crimes. Fourteen robbers barged into a Louis Vuitton store in suburban Chicago last week and fled with more than $100,000 in handbags and other merchandise.

So why so many recent incidents? Are they linked to the holiday season? Is it pandemic restlessness?

"This has nothing to do with the pandemic," said Pete Eliadis, a former law enforcement official and founder of security company Intelligence Consulting Partners. "The pandemic is overused at this point."

But security experts cited a mix of several other factors.

Such cases aren't always a priority for law enforcement

San Francisco has seen a surge in crime since it reopened in the pandemic. In the Central district, for example, larceny and theft incidents are up almost 88% from a year earlier, and overall crime is up almost 52%, according to police statistics.

Many of the store thieves wear masks or hoods, making them difficult to identify even when they're spotted on security cameras.

Police in Los Angeles and San Francisco have made some arrests, but thieves often face few consequences, Eliadis said.

One reason for this is law enforcement's lack of resources, which means theft cases sometimes are put on the back burner, he said. And, he added, the "defund the police" movement has sapped some officers' morale.

"There's no political will to prosecute the people in this climate. Why should a police officer waste time getting into an altercation when the person is not going to jail because it's overcrowded and a prosecutor is not going to prosecute that case because it's not high on the priority list?" Eliadis said.

"The takeaway is we need the political will, more prosecution and backing of law enforcement."

Thieves may face few consequences

The decriminalization of low-level offenses in some states has created opportunities for criminals to manipulate the system, said Lynda Buel, president of Ohio-based security consulting firm SRMC....(Read more)