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  • Writer's pictureWSDC

What to Do in a Smash and Grab Crime

Updated: Mar 1, 2022

Large cities in the U.S. are seeing a dramatic rise in the so-called "smash and grab" thefts involving organized groups of thieves targeting malls, luxury stores, and shopping centers.

As we continue to see fracturing of social, cultural, and political mores, the rise of lawlessness is also being played out in these smash and grab thefts.

These organized criminal raids are proving to be violent and your personal safety is at risk if you are caught in one. A notable example is Kevin Nishita who was shot while working as a security guard for a KRON television news crew reporting on a smash-and-grab robbery at the clothing store Prime 356.

The sudden and chaotic nature of these attacks is designed to shock and overwhelm store

employees and shoppers so they do not resist. Even though the criminals' intent is to steal merchandise they will target anyone standing in their way, especially store employees. But you can get caught in the violence as well.

Surveillance photo of smash and grab mob in store.
Mob using car to crash through the store front.

Video of some of these crimes show the perpetrators using hammers, crowbars, pepper spray, and firearms and other potentially deadly weapons during the crime. In fact, one of these flash mob robberies occurred at a home improvement store just to acquire these kinds of tools.

What Can Happen to Me in a Smash and Grab?

The violent nature of this kind of mass assault can:

  • Result in falls, head injuries, broken bones caused by the criminals violently shoving their way into the store or knocking you down to get to merchandise.

  • Create car accidents as the thieves smash into storefronts or haphazardly flee from the crime scene.

  • Result in a physical assault on you by the criminals to take your personal property or to stop you from interfering in the crime.

The top 10 cities where the smash and grab crimes are considered the most destructive:

Chart of top cities affected by Organized Retail Crime
These are the worst of the U.S. cities for organized retail theft.

While most publicity has been given to the dramatic raids on luxury stores for things like designer clothing and handbags, the chart below shows that even the most basic items are also targeted because of the strong black market or secondary market values they can get.

Chart of top items stolen by organized retail gangs
The most stolen items are generally luxury items or durable goods which can be easily resold.

The stolen items are often returned to the retail outlets for gift cards which are then sold for cash. The items also are found for resale on websites and pawn shops.

If You are Caught in a Smash and Grab Crime

First of all, we need to knowledge that these crimes are happening and can happen anywhere we might be shopping. This can put individuals of a smaller stature or those with infirmities at risk of injury because of the chaotic nature of this crime. However everyone is at risk because of the frequent use of weapons during these crimes.

  • When shopping, take a minute to look around the store for exits and possible escape routes.

  • If you see or hear something out of the ordinary, the first thing to do is to admit to yourself that a potentially violent event is happening right now. Trust your instincts and believe what your eyes are telling you. Take a look at the video above and acquaint yourself with how these crimes look.

  • Retreat away from the main surge of attackers. Take action now.

  • Forget about being embarrassed if you are wrong about your instinctive moves to escape. Early recognition and action are the key points.

  • Believe that you can get hurt, even if you think you are completely innocent. The attackers don't care about you -- but they will run over you if you seem to be in their way. Frequently store employees are being pepper sprayed and threatened with firearms.

  • If you are wearing highly visible jewelry, carrying a luxury bag, or appear to be affluent, you also run the risk of being robbed. You could look like a target of opportunity. Even though the gang is looking to grab the merchandise, individual gang members won't object to getting paid by taking your valuables.

  • Move quickly to one of the exits you've identified. Exiting the way you came in might not be available or too dangerous.

  • If you cannot exit, move to a far corner or a far wall away from the focus of the gang. Get down to minimize your profile in case gun fire breaks out.

  • Prepare to physically resist if one of the gang members tries to take you. You could be seen as an ancillary prize or be held as a hostage to aid in their escape.

  • You might be forced to wait until the last gang member exits the store. Give a few more minutes for any conflict or chaos to die down from store security inside or outside with the police.

Can I Shoot Them?

Generally, no.

Most states don't allow the use of deadly or lethal force in the protection of property. Take a look at your state statutes or ask a knowledgeable attorney for the specifics of what your state allows.

That broad generalization holds for when the criminals are simply taking merchandise. You cannot shoot someone because they are forcefully grabbing stuff and running out of the store -- even if you feel "scared". Just because you are in the swirl of a violent event and feel the shock, fear, and adrenaline dump which makes you go cold, you are not justified in shooting people, shooting "at" people, or firing a "warning shot" into the ceiling to scare them off.

"But, but, it's wrong! They should not be allowed to get away with it."

I know, but it's still a property crime and not a crime against a person. Discharging your firearm pretty much sets you up as the criminal now. Expect legal action against you. Fines, lawyer fees, jail, prison, and loss of your Second Amendment rights are all potential ramifications from your ill-advised shooting.

When we are justified in shooting is when a reasonable person would also conclude that your use of this force needs to be done right this second in order to save your life or someone else's life.

You need to have multiple tools in your tool box when it comes to self-defense. The basic law of the land is that you can't shoot someone because they punched you, just as you can't punch someone in a movie theater because they scuffed your Puma. It comes down to a legal concept called proportionality which basically means you can only use the amount of force necessary to stop the force being used on you.

The definition of lethal force is that it is any force, intentionally applied, that a reasonable person knows -- or should know -- will cause death or serious bodily harm.

According to attorney and use-of-force expert Andrew Branca:

In general, deadly force in self-defense may only be used to counter a deadly-force threat—that is, an imminent threat of death or grave bodily harm. If the threatened force cannot reasonably be expected to cause death or grave bodily harm, then deadly force may not be used to counter that threat.

The bottom line on living in this growing sphere of crime and lawlessness remains:

  1. Recognizing the threats in today's world.

  2. Staying vigilant to predators and those around us who would do us harm.

  3. Seek and obtain training that is relevant to the risks we face.

  4. Deliberate practice toward mastery of our life-saving skills.

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