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How To Handle Yourself In A Flash Mob Looting

Avatar for Samantha Biggers Samantha Biggers  |  Updated: July 15, 2019
How To Handle Yourself In A Flash Mob Looting

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As times get tougher, the nature of crimes and the rate will go up. Recently a Walgreens Drug store in Pennsylvania was in the news when a flash mob of 60 teens vandalized and stole merchandise.

When a store is overwhelmed with that many people, a lot of damage and theft can occur in mere minutes. With police response times being what they are in most places, by the time they arrive, the damage is done and the perpetrators are long gone.

When the perpetrators are minors, the potential consequences of their actions are not enough to dissuade them from this type of behavior.

Examples of flash mob looting

Some of these examples are from 2018 but I am including them because they show how fast a store can lose a lot of expensive merchandise. I have also included some of the more recent events.

Walgreens Drug Store

Philadelphia, PA

July 4, 2019 10:00 pm

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Approximately 60 young people rush into the store and cause $7,000 in damage in mere minutes. This incident was relatively low in terms of damage compared to some others on our list but over time damages and more frequent incidents can really add up at a store. If people get away with it once, it sets a precedent for people to think they can do it again.

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Casey’s General Store

July, 5 2018 10:30 pm

Des Moines, Iowa

After a local fireworks show, a flash mob entered the store and began looting.

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Apple Computer Store

July 7, 2018

Fresno, California

An Apple computer store had $27,000 in merchandise stolen by a flash mob in just 26 seconds. That is a huge loss in such a short period of time.

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North Face

July 1, 2019

Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin

A group of men entered a North Face store at an outlet mall and made off with $30,000 in merchandise in under 30 seconds. It is believed that they were also involved in another outlet mall incident. The suspects grabbed merchandise and made their getaway in cars that were positioned close by.

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Consistent theft and crime leads to stores closing and lost jobs in communities.

Theft is contributing to the closing of retail stores. A store can only take so much loss before closing. A big chain like Wal-Mart, Dollar General, major grocery stores, etc, does a lot of research when deciding where to build stores. If times change and they have to start cutting back, the stores that are performing the most poorly are the ones that get shut down.

Sometimes high levels of shoplifting and theft lead to a store closure. When crime is high, the statistics hurt the chances of any other stores deciding to set up shop in that area. We are seeing this happen in many cities. In Charlotte, NC, there are areas where people have to go quite far to buy food at any location besides a gas station or Dollar Store.

This can make it very hard for the elderly and disabled to get to stores that sell healthy food rather than convenience items. The cost can also be higher because stores know that people have the choice of shopping there or traveling further.

You want to avoid being in the crossfire if someone chooses to react with a weapon.

Being in the wrong place at the wrong time has got a lot of people in trouble over the years. In states where people and shop-keepers are allowed to have weapons, someone may feel their life and livelihood is in danger and use one. Innocent people can sometimes get in the crossfire of any event and get hurt. Be observant and take cover or get out of the way ASAP if someone pulls a weapon of any description no matter what side of the altercation they are on.

The frequency of flash mob crime is likely to be higher in shops and businesses where there is a policy against weapons in the workplace or businesses that are owned by large chains that perpetrators are familiar with.

There is also the possibility of someone at a store being involved with the crime as well. When someone is making a low wage and not happy about it, some people in that position might consider helping out by planning and stepping back while their co conspirators take what they want.

Employees often have no incentive to go above and beyond. If the business is operated by owners there is more incentive for them to take drastic action. A clerk making $14 an hour is likely not going to make any attempt to stop a looter. They make the same wage no matter what.

During the LA riots of 1992, Korean store owners made national news for barricading their shops and posting themselves on their rooftops and in front of their stores with guns. They had incentive because this was their family-owned businesses. It was their livelihood.

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Don’t expect the clerk at your local chain store to do anything but call the police. Sometimes there may be a brave soul that takes action but at the same time what is one person going to do when 60 people run through a store creating chaos. Some stores make a point to tell employees to never get involved so a clerk may think that if they intervene, they might lose their job.

Things To Watch Out For

Sudden increase in foot traffic at entry points

People try to enter stores at a reasonable rate even if there does happen to be quite a few people coming in to shop. People are not usually so desperate to get into a store that they crowd together or run into each other.

Be especially aware of odd patterns for the time you are shopping

Late at night is not when you would expect a lot of people to be shopping so a big increase in people is odd to start with. Flash mob looting is often timed so that there are few other customers and fewer employees on the clock than there are at peak shopping times. This makes it easier to maneuver and reduces the odds of defensive action against the perpetrators.

Watch out for gathering crowds in parking areas and at entry points.

So there were approximately 60 teens that entered the Walgreens at 10 pm. They did not all arrive at exactly 10:00 pm. There was a time right before where this group was mustering their forces until they had enough people gathered for the flash mob.

There is no way to know just how long it took for this group to gather. Maybe they were super organized and all got there within a 10 minute time period but I kind of doubt that was the case.

Tips For Staying Safe

Flash mob looting happens fast, here are a few things to consider so you can get through one without getting overly involved or injured.

Know where all the exits are at stores you shop at often. If you are somewhere you don’t normally shop , make it a habit to look for exit points when you go in.

There is a reason why some doors say for emergency exit only. Employee entry points and exits are worth trying too if you feel you need to get out of somewhere fast and as undetected as possible.

If a situation becomes increasingly violent or out of control, you may be better off escaping through a back exit even if it does set off an alarm. As long as you are not actually taking anything yourself, you are probably going to be forgiven for getting yourself to safety.

Note: It is not always a good idea to go out a back exit. Flash mob lootings are often over in a minute. You may be better off staying put or finding a safe spot in the store until the danger passes. Escaping may be best in situations where the looting escalates into a more serious situation. Escaping may also make you look guilty. You do not want law enforcement to assume you are a perpetrator. This is one of those times when I can give you advice but you need to use your own judgment based on the exact situation you are in.

Keep calm and do not antagonize any perpetrators. They may be looking for an excuse to get more aggressive and if you draw the wrath of one, then you are risking drawing the wrath of the entire group.

While it can be tempting to yell insults or give someone a fight if they throw something at you, it is highly advisable to think about what you are doing and the possible consequences. If someone throws a box of Twinkies at you and runs off it is not worth pursing them or saying anything unless they are really continuing to try to hurt you.

Consider what aisles are most dangerous to be in.

If I was caught in a flash mob situation, I would probably feel a lot safer if I was hidden in the women’s clothing section rather than sporting goods where there are a ton of potential weapons, especially since I always at least have a knife on me for personal protection.

Steer clear of aisles that looters may have the most interest in as you make your way to an exit. If people are running around just creating trouble and not targeting specific types of products, it may be hard to avoid some interaction depending on how crowded the store really is.

Flash mob looting can be part of a larger organized crime unit.

Sometimes thieves are stealing with the intent of selling items in the underground economy. The person that they sell to is a middle man sometimes called a “fence.” These people will pay a percentage of the retail price to the thief in cash. A fence may even provide groups with lists of items that are in demand so they can organize their thefts around them.

Flash mob looting happens fast, with thieves often doing all the theft and damage within minutes.

The recent incident at the Walgreens in Pennsylvania led to police releasing the surveillance footage of the incident in the hopes that someone would recognize some of those involved. If you watch how fast it all happened once the crowd was gathered, it is clear that the $7,000 dollars in damage and theft was done within just a few minutes.

It is also pretty clear that a lot of flash mob looting is just people trying to cause trouble and not really taking any real major items.

When watching the Walgreens video it is telling that it seems like the group is mostly intent on just making a mess and not taking a lot. Why steal a bottle of water when there are many other more valuable items? One would expect the actual pharmacy section to have been looted for at least some of the prescription medications or some people to grab alcohol. The fact that they grabbed water and chips leads me to think this case was all about just seeing what they could get away with and vandalizing.

A cashier was hit in the head with a glass bottle when he tried to diffuse the situation. Other employees had other items thrown at them. Luckily the violence did not continue to escalate, but it shows that some were going down a path of actual violence towards people just trying to make a living.

Keep your wallet or purse where it cannot be easily snatched.

Carrying your wallet in a zipped pocket close to you makes it less likely that it will be stolen. Thieves don’t necessarily grab purses as much as they used to because a lot of people do not carry cash at all and cards have much better fraud protection than they once did. That doesn’t mean someone might not snatch what you have though.

Consider hiding at least briefly or gradually making your way to an exit if the mob appears to be intent on staying for longer than average. Remember that most flash mob lootings are over in under a minute sometimes so you may be able to hide and avoid getting hurt or robbed.

If you cannot make an exit quickly or are in a store where something is going down, and the exit is far away, you may need to find a decent place to hide at least briefly. Remember that moving stealthily may be better than running fast or drawing attention to yourself. Some law enforcement officials even recommend locking yourself in the bathroom if possible. Another option in a large store like Wal-Mart is to use the aisles as cover and move smartly.

If crime seems to be on the rise in your area, consider spending less time at brick and mortar stores.

While I know some people like to shop at a real store and not online, if crime is rising you may want to consider doing more online shopping or at least planning out your in store shopping so you make the most of your trips. You will save time in the long run and reduce the time you are exposed to crowds and the potential for flash mob violence.

Think about what stores you are shopping at and where they are located as well. If a neighborhood is going downhill, it might be worth your time to shop a little further away. Chain stores and malls are prime locations for flash mob violence due to how open they are and how easy it is for a large group to get inside and organize with no one the wiser until the violence starts.

Flash mob looting may become a lot worse during a natural disaster or if there are protests and riots anywhere in the area.

If times are tough and people think they can get away with it, there is no reason why flash mob looting wouldn’t become worse as people get more desperate for supplies or worn thin from dealing with a disaster.

During times of political turmoil or civil unrest, specific groups or neighborhoods may become targets. If you own a business, you should have a plan for protecting it or reducing loss potential during times of unrest. This also may be basically impossible it times get worse or there is just too many people to keep back.

Have you ever been in a store during a flash mob looting? Do you have any tips for getting through a flash mob looting?

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18 Responses to “How To Handle Yourself In A Flash Mob Looting”

    • Looters are fair game where we live.. Not unusual to see a “You loot, WE shoot” sign in hard times.

    • Yes, it should. Every store should have a prominent “You loot, we shoot” sign, and anyone should be allowed to get rid of these useless excuses for human. They don’t deserve to live.

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