SoCal law enforcement, business owners looking for ways to prevent wave of flash-mob robberies

Tuesday, August 15, 2023
SoCal leaders looking to address spate of flash-mob robberies
Retail robberies and burglaries are at their highest level in more than a decade, according to an ABC7 analysis of crime data.

CENTURY CITY, LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Several recent flash mob robberies have local high-end stores on alert.

Dozens of masked suspects have run out of stores in Century City, Canoga Park, Glendale and other Southern California communities with armfuls of stolen merchandise, sometimes worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

In one recent hit, roughly 30 people stole more than $300,000 in merchandise from the Westfield Topanga mall on Saturday.

Dressed in disguises and moving quickly, they all escaped.

As thieves often do.

Mob-style smash-and-grab robbery at Nordstrom store inside Topanga mall leaves shoppers on edge

Shocking video captured a mob-style smash-and-grab robbery at a mall in Topanga and police are now searching for up to 30 suspects involved.

LAPD data shows last year, only about a quarter of such robberies led to an arrest.

Leaders in the law enforcement and business communities are saying enough is enough.

"We've gotta get our elected officials to change some laws, enforce the laws we have and hold people accountable - especially these criminals that are doing it over and over again," said developer Rick Caruso, owner of the Grove and other SoCal retail centers.

One of Caruso's properties, the Americana in Glendale, was hit by a similar flash-mob style theft last week.

The week before that, another group ran out of Westfield Century City's Gucci store with arms full of bags, even luggage in tow.

"I cringe when I see these national stories about California because that's not what we're about," said Rachel Michelin, president of the California Retailers Association. "These aren't the values of the people who live in California."

"All we want to do as retailers is safely be able to operate our stores."

An ABC7 analysis of retail robberies, burglaries and thefts reported by the LAPD show these types of crimes over the last 12 months are the highest they've been since at least 2010.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna is exploring crime centers, to help the response time.

"Where there are either government cameras, private cameras that are giving an indication of activity that may be occurring and then give us the ability to respond even faster to some of these," Luna said.

But leaders are divided over what to do when the thieves are actually caught.

Efforts to amend California's shoplifting and petty theft laws have failed.

LA County has reinstated zero-bail for nonviolent, low-level offenses.

But on Monday, District Attorney George Gascón said these crimes go beyond that.

"We view them as organized crime, and we will use every tool available under the law when there is an arrest made to make sure that these individuals are held accountable," Gascón said.

Gascon says people who buy the goods are part of the problem by perpetuating demand. Technically it's illegal to knowingly buy stolen goods but the "knowingly" part makes it more difficult to enforce and prosecute.