Blog & Company News

Oct 17, 2011

When Hooligans Tweet: How to Handle a Flash-Mob Robbery

[caption id="attachment_393" align="alignright" width="292" caption="Flash mob robbery"][/caption] One of the attributes of social-networking platforms is the ability to call together groups of people who would otherwise be strangers, and convince those strangers to do strange things together in public. Not everyone, however, has used the flash-mob strategy for pure fun.

Flash Mobs Versus Criminal Flash Mobs

A flash mob is the sudden, premeditated gathering of people in a public place to perform a synchronized act, usually to the surprise of those around them. According to a BBC news article, Bill Wasik is credited with starting the movement in 2003, when he sent emails and subsequently created a show.1 At first, these demonstrations of strength in numbers were harmless. They involved random participants gathering, then chanting a phrase in unison, dancing a choreographed routine, or some such activity, then dispersing back into the crowd. More recently, a number of flash mobs have involved some form of criminal activity, such as destruction of property or physical violence. The International Business Times2 reported about a mob of teenagers who robbed a Dallas convenience store in September 2011. The Toronto Sun3 reported about a flash robbery at a Quickie store in Ottawa, Ontario, and an article in The Washington Times mentioned a number of criminal acts perpetrated by flash mobs in Chicago, Milwaukee, and the District of Columbia.4 Loss of merchandise can happen quickly as a result of these mob events, and the number of people involved can make it difficult or impossible to identify those responsible. In Philadelphia in 2009, for example, more than 30 people who were alleged to have joined together through Twitter assaulted a man, and in 2010, a flash-mob robbery resulted in the theft of hundreds of dollars’ worth of merchandise from Sears within five minutes, according to The Huffington Post.5

Managing the Situation as a Retailer

In response to the increasing number of criminal flash mobs, the National Retail Federation6 has released a set of guidelines for business owners to follow if they were to receive such a visit. Here are the highlights:
  • Whatever the situation, put customer and employee safety first.
  • Monitor social-networking sites for mentions of the business.
  • Take note of any large gatherings of people around the store.
  • Gather evidence—pay attention to the characteristics of the robbers, and pay attention to what they are taking.
  • Share information with local law-enforcement agencies.
For more information, visit: 1. “Flash Mobbing and Its Unstoppable Rise” 2. “Flash-Mob Robbery, Violence Hits Dallas” 3. “Store Hit by Flash Mob Robbed Again” 4. “Harsher Flash-Mob Penalties Weighed in Maryland” 5. “Flash Mobs, No Longer Just Dance Parties and Pillow Fights, Pose Growing Criminal Threat: Cops” 6. “National Retail Federation: Multiple Offender Crimes