The San Francisco area saw back-to-back flash mobs ransack a Nordstrom and a Louis Vuitton over a 24-hour period, alarming security experts in a city that has already been struggling with rampant smash-and-grab incidents.
"I think what happens now is there's no accountability for it anymore, and the liability for the stores if they try to apprehend these guys. They just stand by and watch," Steve Reed, a retired police officer and the former head of security at Arden Fair Mall, told ABC 10.
Some security experts are pointing to California’s laws that are intended to reduce costs of incarceration as to why there is an increase in such crimes, ABC 10 reported. Shoplifting charges regarding the theft of $950 or less were lowered from felonies to misdemeanors under Proposition 47 in 2014. Stores also often have no-chase policies of shoplifters.
"Some people calculate, 'Hey, you know, I don't want to go over the $950, so let me steal $949 worth of property,'" San Francisco Police Chief William Scott said earlier this year.
"If it's a felony, our officers can take action," he added at the time. "But if it's a misdemeanor, that arrest has to be a private person's arrest. And that makes a difference because they have to be willing to do that."
Other security experts in the area are advising that the best precaution people can take during such incidents is not intervening.
"I cannot overstate the importance of doing that," Hector Alvarez, a corporate security expert with more than 15 years of training, told ABC 10. "Find a way to duck into a corner, get behind something and literally become spam, don't become part of the noise."
About 80 people dressed in ski masks armed with crowbars stormed a Nordstrom location in Walnut Creek on Saturday night. The town is located about 30 minutes from San Francisco.
The night prior, multiple people broke the windows of a Louis Vuitton and "emptied out" the store of its high-end merchandise. Eight people were arrested in connection to that looting.
Police in Walnut Creek told Fox News on Sunday evening that it’s unclear at this time if the two robberies are connected. The three people arrested during the Walnut Creek incident are from San Francisco and Oakland.
"Three people are under arrest today following an organized theft at the Broadway Plaza Nordstrom in Walnut Creek last night. Police are investigating what was clearly a planned event, with the initial calls coming into the department about cars driving recklessly in the area shortly before 9:00 p.m." Walnut Creek police said in a press statement Sunday.
Police arrested Dana Dawson, 30, of San Francisco on gun charges; Joshua Underwood, 32, of San Francisco; Rodney Robinson, 18, of Oakland for allegedly stealing from the store, and assaulting two Nordstrom employees, pepper spraying one of them.
Police are investigating surveillance footage from Saturday night to identify the other suspects and noted the "remaining participants in this criminal mob fled from the area in cars at high speeds."
The San Francisco area has been hit with repeated incidents of looting and smash-and-grab incidents in recent months. The city’s Central District, a popular tourist destination, saw a staggering 753% increase in car break-ins from May 2020 to May 2021. Robbery incidents, however, are down 4.9% so far this year when compared to last, according to San Francisco Police data released last week.
Chain stores, such as Walgreens and Safeway, have also permanently closed locations in the city or cut back hours over the increase in shoplifting crimes.
Both Alvarez and Reed told ABC10 that without strong accountability, the problem could get worse.
And in Walnut Creek, police are already bracing for the suspects to strike again.
"The Walnut Creek Police Department is actively monitoring intelligence that indicates the group of thieves who stole from the Broadway Plaza Nordstrom last night are considering similar activity later today," the city tweeted from its official Twitter account Sunday night.
"This has not been confirmed, but out of an abundance of caution, we are alerting businesses & residents to be prepared. @Walnutcreekpd is calling out additional officers & reserves & some stores may consider closing early or taking other precautions. There is not a specific time or target known right now; as we get more info, we will share."