‘Flash-mob’ robbery: How Bakersfield businesses are preparing for looters

Local News

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — It’s not a new type of crime, but it is gaining new notoriety: Flash-mob theft, where multiple thieves, sometimes in the dozens, hit a store at once. 

Could it happen here? What are local retailers doing about the potential for organized threats of that type? Their options are limited but not nonexistent.

The owners of In Your Wildest Dreams, the Downtown Bakersfield consignment and antique store, have taken several steps to secure their business, and one greets customers at the door: A heavy, sliding wrought iron gate that provides overnight security.

Is that enough to prevent scenes like the one in Walnut Creek, Calif., over the weekend, where a flash mob of shoplifters descended on an upscale store, took what they wanted, and then, insulated by their sheer numbers, bolted out to waiting cars without apparent consequence? The answer: No, wrought iron is not enough, but it’s certainly one tool.

Scenes like the one in Walnut Creek are happening more and more these days, or so it would seem, most notoriously in San Francisco, where vulnerable high-end stores are plentiful.

Could it happen here? It has, just not as dramatically. How can retailers stop it?

Preventative step number one: Maintain a good relationship with your local police department and heed their advice. Bakersfield police meet regularly with local retailers.

“This is something we talk about with area merchants,” said Sgt. Robert Pair, a BPD spokesman. “We have discussions about strategy. One of the things is, if there’s an early indication that something like this is going to happen, and usually there’s a clue — you don’t every day have 80 people just suddenly show up in your business out of nowhere — then the earlier we can get a warning, the better.”

Dixie Brewer’s newly relocated consignment and antique store, In Your Wildest Dreams, has taken what she considers sensible precautions.

“We did go the extra mile and we did camera-up extensively,” she said. “We did the alarm system a little more than normal, we’ve got an iron gate, so we’re doing the best that we can. But we’re not looking for the worst to happen.”

The list of steps merchants should be prepared to take, however, is not as long as the list of things they’re best advised not to do. Even though citizens’ arrests are legally permissible, and can take place inside or outside a store that has been hit, police say it’s best not to physically engage with thieves. 

“Specifically for flash mobs, we never encourage people to get physical, especially with a large group,” Pair said. “And I think the recent example up north was 80 people. That’s something that’s difficult to combat. But Bakersfield isn’t San Francisco. We have a very engaged community.”

As for guns: Pair said people should know that self-defense laws are for people, not property. 

Your best bets as a merchant: Limit the number of easily available store exits,  make sure shoppers know they’re being watched, and be prepared to call 911 at the first sign of potential trouble.

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