There are many victims, and it costs consumers. Organized retail theft is taking a toll.
The National Retail Federation said a 2018 survey showed retailers lost $777,877 per $1 billion in sales. That survey also showed that 9 in 10 retailers had encountered organized retail theft crime in the prior 12 months.
On July 1, the North Face store in Pleasant Prairie’s Premium Outlets mall was a victim, as six men rushed in, grabbed whatever merchandise they could carry and ran out in 30 seconds. The take was valued at more than $33,000.
Three of the six identified suspects are in custody—two in Kenosha County and one in Indiana. The others are being sought with $50,000 warrants for their arrest.
News and social media widely circulated the security video of the theft.
Pleasant Prairie Police Chief David Smetana said many were shocked at the video. “The act itself was surprising,” he said. “People understand that shoplifting happens, but to see it this level, it shocked people.”
On July 7, a Pleasant Prairie detective received a call from the Chicago Police Bureau of Organized Crime. They said they were contacted by someone who recognized several of the men. Two officers from that bureau watched the video and recognized several men who belonged to the Mickey Cobras gang.
Loss Prevention magazine, in a February article, reported that what began as social media calls to gather at a place for a spontaneous dance or other harmless entertainment activity has evolved into a criminal enterprise and gang involvement. The magazine said that merchandise is usually taken for personal use or for resale.
In 2017, Pleasant Prairie police arrested a group stealing $20,000 in merchandise from 16 stores, using booster bags. The group, police learned, was part of a multi-state gang. Pleasant Prairie’s security video led to arrests.
What else can be done?
Loss Prevention magazine suggests that retailers develop a specific strategy and form alliances.
Premium Outlet Mall does have a system of retailers sharing information, but mall security could not comment.
Most retailers prohibit, with good reason, employees or staff from confronting thieves. That, and that the crime is retail theft, is a misdemeanor with small consequences.
But the flash mobs won’t stop unless there is a fear of reprisal and serious consequences.
One suggestion the magazine made was that legislatures change laws regarding theft as it pertains to flash mobs. If these flash mobs make customers or staff feel threatened or fear for their own safety, this intimidation could raise the bar to becoming robbery, a felony with more serious consequences.
Retailers bear the primary responsibility. Security cameras, how and where more expensive items are displayed or controlled, and training staff on what to do are important first steps. Staff should learn to get descriptions of thieves, vehicle descriptions, call police and secure video.
Forming retail alliances, sharing information as Premium Outlet Mall does, also will help, as well as a push to prosecute.
While these efforts may not stop these flash robs, it may put a serious dent in the number of episodes.