(CNN) — A wave of hit-and-run robberies is ravaging luxury stores in some of America’s major cities, where mobs of thieves snatch expensive items in brazen nightly raids.
On Monday night, at least 18 people broke into a Los Angeles Nordstrom store and stole thousands of dollars in merchandise, according to the city police chief.
The robberies followed a series of similar incidents that occurred over the weekend in the San Francisco Bay area. On Sunday night, a group of thieves stormed Hayward’s Southland Mall, smashing boxes from a jewelry store with hammers before grabbing the items and fleeing.
Three suspects were arrested Saturday night after a gang ransacked a Nordstrom department store in Walnut Creek, east of San Francisco. About 80 suspects were involved, fleeing the open-air mall in at least 10 different vehicles, according to police. That robbery followed similar robberies Friday night near Union Square in San Francisco, where thieves attacked Louis Vuitton, Burberry and Bloomingdale’s stores, a Walgreens and cannibals dispensaries.
And California is not the only place that faces these types of crimes. Last week, 14 thieves broke into a Louis Vuitton store in the Chicago suburbs and fled with more than $ 100,000 in bags and other goods.
Why so many recent robberies? Are they related to the holiday season? Does it have to do with the pandemic?
“This has nothing to do with the pandemic,” says Pete Eliadis, a former law enforcement official and founder of the security firm Intelligence Consulting Partners. “The pandemic is being overused right now.”
But security experts cited a mix of several factors.
These cases are not always a priority for law enforcement agencies
San Francisco has seen an increase in crime since businesses were reopened during the pandemic. In the Central district, for example, thefts and robberies have increased by almost 88% over the previous year, and overall crime has increased by almost 52%, according to police statistics.
Many shoplifters wear masks or hoods, making it difficult to identify them even when detected by security cameras.
Los Angeles and San Francisco police have made some arrests, but thieves often face little consequence, according to Eliadis.
One of the reasons is the lack of resources of the security forces, which means that theft cases are sometimes relegated to the background, he said. And he added that the movement that seeks to “defund the police” has sapped the morale of some officers.
“There is no political will to accuse people in this climate. Why would a police officer get into an altercation waste his time when the person is not going to go to jail because it is overcrowded and a prosecutor is not going to prosecute Why is that case not on the priority list? “said Eliadis.
“The bottom line is that we need political will, more accusations and support from law enforcement.”
Thieves may face few consequences
The decriminalization of low-level crime in some states has created opportunities for criminals to tamper with the system, said Lynda Buel, president of Ohio-based security consultancy SRMC.
For example, Proposition 47, a California ballot initiative passed in 2014, sought to alleviate prison overcrowding by reducing penalties for some crimes. The measure raised the threshold for the crime of theft from US $ 500 to US $ 950.
“For the low-level offender, the benefit far outweighs the risk, as the threshold for a misdemeanor is $ 950, which means a person can steal up to that amount and only be charged with a misdemeanor.” Buel said.
Organized crime networks are often behind these types of operations and pay low-level criminals to steal for them, he said.
Security experts say that dismantling these sophisticated criminal groups should be a priority for law enforcement.
“People see the possibility of committing these ‘lightning robberies’ knowing that there are few consequences, especially if the robberies remain below the threshold of a serious crime,” said Buel. “It’s easy, it’s fast, and the payoff is good.”
Holidays offer more opportunities to steal
It’s not uncommon for these types of thefts to increase around Christmas time, says Buel.
The stores stock up before the holidays, which means there is a great deal of merchandise to choose from. That means more opportunity and more convenience for thieves, he said.
But business robberies by organized gangs are not limited to the Christmas season. In July, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed legislation that re-establishes a task force to investigate organized shoplifting.
“This is not new in the state … We have been very deliberately organized for several years to address the problem of organized crime in retail,” Newsom said. “Today we are redoubling those efforts.”
In Illinois, Attorney General Kwame Raoul stated in September that crime rings are costing retailers nationwide about $ 45 billion in annual losses and created a task force to crack down on organized crime networks targeting the stores.
“These blatant and violent crimes are committed by sophisticated criminal organizations that are involved in drug trafficking, human trafficking and other serious crimes,” Raoul said.
There are many places to sell stolen items
After being stolen, there are several ways to sell them, all of them extremely easy and with little regulation and control by law enforcement, according to experts. Most of the items in these cases lack a serial number, making them nearly impossible to trace, Eliadis said.
“It is incredibly easy to sell stolen merchandise online through e-commerce platforms,” said Buel. “E-commerce has really taken off as a place to sell stolen goods.”
Other thieves don’t need to sell your stolen goods on Craigslist or eBay. They can also resort to flea markets, pawn shops, and street vendors. Thieves can sell expensive items at discounted prices, which means there is no shortage of buyers, Eliadis added.
The result is a ruthless cycle that affects everyone, Eliadis said. Some affected stores will close or relocate. And businesses affected by theft see insurance rates and private security costs rise, costs that end up being passed on to the customer.