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What Happens When Crime Occurs In A Flash(mob)

Posted on 9/13/11 9:30 AM

crowd of peopleWhat started out as being funny, like a crowd that breaks out in Christmas Carrols at a local mall, to a wireless commercial of a lone guy dancing in a public place just to realize he missed the text of a time change of the flash mob, has now moved to violence and crime across the retail industry.

Wikipedia defines a flash mob as:

“a group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform an unusual and sometimes seemingly pointless act for a brief time, then disperse, often for the purposes of entertainment, satire, artistic expression or—in some cases—violence. Flash mobs are organized via telecommunications, social media, viral emails or texting.”

Unfortunately for our industry, we are experiencing the violence and criminal acts related to that definition. The “criminal flash mob” phenomenon in the U.S. has increased dramatically over the course of the past year and appears to be hitting the retail industry by storm. Retail companies, along with local law enforcement are quickly becoming more aware of this new trend. While retailers are looking to educate their associates and put together a plan in effort to protect their assets, and more importantly their employees, law enforcement is trying to determine how they can be proactive in preventing these incidents. Unfortunately the more we see and hear about this in the media the more popular it becomes and let’s not forget school is just starting up across the country as well.

Some of the most brazen incidents take place in the light of day and on busy streets despite the security cameras and the watchful eyes of workers, like the following video sweeping across YouTube.


Young people are risk takers; they do things in groups far more than adults do. A medium like Twitter plays into the characteristics of young person’s behavior,” Scott Decker, a professor of criminology at Arizona State University, told “Because of these “crime mobs”, police have begun to more closely monitor social media sites. The pack mentality emboldens the thieves to strike fast, so fast that the store clerks don’t have time to react.”

How do you protect your business from a criminal flash mob?

Like other aspects of an effective loss prevention and safety program, companies have to be proactive in their approach. It is true that these flash mobs may not be predictable and can happen at any time or anyplace, but that does not mean a company cannot be proactive in its education, awareness and approach when an incident does occur.

Physical Security

  • Have a working video system in place- a broken system or one not placed on vulnerable areas will not do any good and word travels if the system is broken.

  • Test and ensure panic buttons are in good working condition.

  • May sure that windows are clear and visible from the outside. Visibility from the outside may assist in someone seeing that an incident is occurring.

Associate Education & Response

  • Educate associates on what to do if this takes place.

  • Have updated emergency contact numbers available.

  • Make sure employee and customer safety is top of mind.

  • Secure any funds that may be accessible.

  • Get descriptions of vehicles, direction they leave in, clothing etc.

  • Contact the police when the associate(s) feels that it is safe to do so.

  • Secure any video of the event which can assist in the documentation process and have it readily available for law enforcement officials (following company protocols for release).

  • Immediately notify your supervisor/ loss prevention.

  • If in a mall/outlet notify security.

Fortunately, most criminal flash mobs have not been violent and often these perpetrators are more interested in merchandise than cash or harming employees. However, employees should understand the difference between shoplifting, a robbery incident and a criminal flash mob. Any threats or acts of harm, intimidation or violence should be reported to the police as it may classify the incident as a robbery as opposed to a theft.

As these incidents continue to occur, law enforcement along with retail associations like the NRF, FMI and RILA will be tracking these activities and providing much needed information and education on the subject. As our industry continues to come to grips with this new phenomenon, the best approach for a retail associate to take is to Observe, Report and Protect Associates and Customers.


Written by Kevin O'Brien, Senior Account Executive

Topics: training and awareness

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