Los Angeles has seen a recent spike in flash mob robberies at high-end retailers, part of an ongoing issue that prompted L.A. officials to announce a new multi-agency task force to crack down on the problem.
Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass, along with officials from the LAPD and the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, announced Thursday that the task force will provide a coordinated approach to addressing the trend of smash-and-grab and flash mob retail thefts.
“Our number one job is to keep Angelenos safe and to feel safe,” Bass said at a news conference. “When incidents of brazen theft and robbery occur, it shatters that feeling of safety.”
Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna said he is aware of at least 170 organized retail thefts — including smash-and-grabs and flash mobs — dating back to the fall of 2021.
“We are not only focused on the individuals walking into these stores and committing the crimes that we see on video, but if you are supporting them logistically, either by being a driver, harboring them, buying merchandise, selling merchandise, you’re in this chain,” Luna said.
The task force will be centered in the San Fernando Valley and spearheaded by the LAPD. It will include several local, state and federal agencies, including the FBI and U.S. Marshals Service.
There will be 22 full-time investigators assigned to the task force with three separate surveillance and apprehension teams, said LAPD deputy chief Kris Pitcher. A prosecutor from the L.A. County District Attorney’s Office will be embedded with the task force.
“We will be working effectively to go out and immediately identify, arrest these individuals, and serve immediate search warrants, and apprehend them, and bring them in custody and put them before the prosecutors to ultimately obtain justice for this,” Pitcher said.
Despite a new federal law preventing the sale of stolen goods online, Bass noted some items still make it to those online markets.
Michael Carson, a senior director for online retailer eBay, said eBay partners with law enforcement to flag stolen goods.
“We work proactively and collaboratively with retailers to identify types of goods that may be stolen, and work with law enforcement to bring prosecution to people that may be committing crimes,” Carson said.
Notable smash-and-grab and flash mob thefts
Pitcher on Thursday listed some of the largest recent incidents:
- July 3: Four suspects wearing hooded sweatshirts and masks stole $32,000 of merchandise from Bloomingdales in the Westfield Century City Shopping Center.
- July 31: Ten to 15 suspects wearing hooded sweatshirts and masks stole $100,000 worth of merchandise from a Gucci store in the Westfield Century City Shopping Center.
- Aug. 12: A flash mob of about 30 people wearing hooded sweatshirts and masks rushed into Nordstrom in the Westfield Topanga Shopping Center, sprayed a security guard with bear spray and worth of merchandise.
- Aug. 15: Eleven suspects wearing hooded sweatshirts and masks rushed into Ksubi, a high-end Hancock Park retail shop, and worth of merchandise. One of the suspects simulated a gun in his pocket to a security guard, police said.