A series of dramatic robberies at department stores like Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s have left shoppers and retailers on edge.
In one incident on Wednesday, a group of robbers hit the Westfield Topanga Mall outside Los Angeles, reportedly spraying an employee with pepper spray and making off with about $25,000 worth of designer handbags.
Earlier this month, a group of about 90 people reportedly ransacked a Nordstrom in Walnut Creek, California, running into the store with weapons and stealing about $100,000 worth of merchandise before driving away in a fleet of getaway cars.
“I probably saw 50 to 80 people (with) like ski masks, crowbars, like a bunch of weapons,” one eyewitness said of the Walnut Creek robbery.
Other so-called “smash-and-grab” incidents have been reported recently across California and in other states, and officials believe these robberies may be orchestrated by criminals running larger networks of crime.
"They’re paying the individuals to do the robberies,” Jeff Rosen, Santa Clara County District Attorney, said in a recent press conference. “They collect the goods and then fence them and move them to other parts of the country.”
In 2020, California was home to three of the nation’s top 10 cities for organized retail theft: Los Angeles, San Francisco and Sacramento.
Officials are investigating why “smash-and-grab” incidents seem to be on the rise now. Some point to copy-cat incidents while others point to legislation that reclassified felony theft offences as misdemeanors.
Criminologist Scott Decker shared some tips for shopping safely amid the rise in organized retail theft.
“I think people need to keep their wits about them,” he told NBC’s Erin McLaughlin on TODAY. “Don't flash cash. Keep your purse in two hands or close to your body under your coat. At the sign of trouble — loud noise, cars where they don't belong — get off the sidewalk, get off the street.”