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Rash of smash and grabs plaguing retailers this holiday season

Smash and grab
Posted at 2:43 PM, Dec 13, 2021

While most of us focus on paying for our holiday gifts in stores or online, hundreds of thieves around the country are resorting to stealing them—and in waves not seen before.

Several major cities are seeing up to 100 people breaking into stores at one time as they make off with tens of thousands of dollars in merchandise.

On November 22, at least 80 thieves in 10 different getaway vehicles ransacked a Nordstrom in San Francisco. That same night, the same thing happened at a Nordstrom in Los Angeles when 18 people swiped merchandise.

A rash of similar incidents has been seen in Las Vegas, Chicago, and Minneapolis.

“We have never had something like that happen at that scale,” said Deputy Chief of Investigations Raj Vaswani of the San Francisco Police Department. “Not only does it impact the shoppers, but it also impacts the actual physical employees in these stores that are terrified. So, it has all kinds of impacts on tourism and everything else.”

Since the start of the pandemic, the National Retail Federation says these crimes have gone up 57%, and are costing retailers an estimated $45 billion annually.

“I think that there are challenges in policing as our numbers are low, so are other departments as far as the number of officers that are working. So, I think that plays into it,” said Vaswani.

To curb the incidents, states have started to step in. Earlier this fall, Illinois attorney general Kwami Raoul started the first statewide task force to address these crimes. On December 6, it made its first big bust as more than $1 million in stolen goods were recovered.

The task force is in addition to a bill that has been introduced in the state legislature that would require online platforms to verify its sellers’ identities- in many cases that is where these thieves go to make money on what they steal.

“A tremendous number of resources are spent on this and it’s very important that the public realize that we are fully committed to making sure this doesn’t continue,” said Vaswani.

The crimes are having an observable effect on business. A few months ago, Walgreens announced it was shutting down five Bay Area locations because of the smash and grabs and Target limited its hours in certain stores citing the same reasons.

In response, California Highway Patrol has worked to increase patrols near major retailers to curb this behavior for the sake of business and the sake of mind.

“Many of the police departments are working together to make sure that we’re all on the same page and using best practices to make sure that this is addressed quickly,” said Vaswani.