Police: Mass theft is so common that stores should call 911 if a large group enters

One officer said he now instructs storekeepers "to go ahead and call 911" if "they see a mass group of people entering, a large group of people entering a large retail store quickly."

Lt. Joe Steiner spoke on a string of group robberies targeting Best Buy stores. (Background: Google Maps; Left: City of Maplewood)

Law enforcement officers say that thieves in the Minneapolis area have developed criminal organizations to facilitate “mass theft” at big-box stores.

“The frequency in which these mass thefts are occurring and the number of offenders in these mass thefts are alarming to us as law enforcement,” Lt. Joe Steiner of the Maplewood Police Department said at a press conference Wednesday. This presser was held in response to a string of recent thefts during which a mob of 10-16 criminals stormed multiple Best Buy stores, one in Maplewood, stealing thousands of dollars worth of high-value items from each location, according to police.

“Through investigation we’ve learned that the group responsible for the coordinated thefts in Maplewood are also responsible for the thefts just prior to our incident at the Best Buy in Blaine, Minnesota,” Steiner reported. “The same group, we’ve learned, is also responsible for mass theft in Burnsville at their Best Buy just after our incident.”

“We are seeing an increase in these types of large scale thefts,” observed Superintendent Drew Evans of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. “What we are seeing is increased number[s] of organized criminal rings,” he said. The groups then take their stolen merchandise and sell it online.

Police say videos of the Maplewood robbery will be made available to the public in the coming days.

The problem of flash-mob theft has gotten so severe that Steiner said he now instructs storekeepers that “if they see a mass group of people entering, a large group of people entering a large retail store quickly, to go ahead and call 911.”

Fortunately, he also said that investigators have “identified multiple suspects” and that they “will be submitting the case to the county attorney’s office for charging consideration” soon.

“We will hold offenders accountable. We will make arrests,” he assured the public.

“Organized criminal retail theft will not be tolerated in the Twin Cities, in Minnesota … we can’t tolerate this type of behavior,” Evans echoed.

Meanwhile, this sort of mass theft, nicknamed “flash-mob robbery,” has become increasingly common across most major American cities. A major California DA said the increasing frequency of these crimes is “instilling fear in merchants, customers and the wider community.”

In response, stores are militarizing — hiring armed guards to keep their wares safe during the holiday season. This is nothing new in Minneapolis, where businesses have hired armed security to keep their staff and property safe after the police effectively withdrew from an increasingly violent urban landscape faced with staffing reductions and a lack of support from city leadership. A mall in Uptown even hired a company called the “Conflict Resolution Group” (CRG) after the Winston Smith unrest over the summer. CRG operators boast experience in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Somalia and were apparently spotted patrolling the area around the mall wearing full kit and toting rifles.