The Dark Side of Flash Mobs - Flash Robs

By Craig Simons Most people have seen the AT&T commercial about the flash mob.  First off, let’s define what a flash mob is.  It’s a sudden gathering of people often times to sing or dance for a brief time and then disperse.  Many videos of flash mobs, especially on YouTube, have gone viral.  At any rate, the guy, in the commercial, not using the AT&T network, gets the text message too late that the flash mob got moved to 12:30 instead of 12 noon and starts dancing, giving it away to everyone and looking like a fool.


But, there is a disturbing trend involving flash mobs and criminal activity.  One case in particular was in Germantown, Maryland where a group of two dozen teenagers descended on a 7-11 and took less than a minute to clear the shelves of hundreds of dollars worth of merchandise without paying for it.  Chief J. Thomas Manger, of the Montgomery County Police Department, states that this flash mob grew from a smaller group coming home from the state fair and coordinated via a social media site to assemble the larger group that committed the crime.

Authorities have reported these groups, now being dubbed “flash robs”, in cities such as Minneapolis, Chicago, Cleveland, New York, Philadelphia and Washington, and various other cities just over the past summer.  It is believed that at least some of them were organized through the use of social media sites.

But how is law enforcement responding to this new use of social media? By using it themselves, of course.

Captain Mike Parker, of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office, is one of the leading experts in the country on how to use social media as a law enforcement tool.  "You have to be on these sites -- Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Flickr -- with the mindset that you're not just watching passively. You're engaging."  Just like a company marketing a brand, law enforcement needs to reach out and interact with their prospective communities.  "Make yourself a friend, approachable. You have to position yourself in a way that isn't threatening, because we really are not there to shut down anyone's fun," he said.  Parker urges fellow officers to network with citizens on Facebook and Twitter as a way of monitoring chatter and increasing cooperation with police.

The law has always had to play catch-up to technology.  Those days must end quickly.  The expectation placed upon law enforcement by the public is higher than ever.  Administrators must rise to the challenge and start utilizing social media to aid their efforts. The criminals are using these sites, why not law enforcement?  Be proactive instead of reactive.


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