So why so many recent incidents? Are they linked to the holiday season? Is it pandemic restlessness?
But security experts cited a mix of several other factors.
Such cases aren’t always a priority for law enforcement
Many of the store thieves wear masks or hoods, making them difficult to identify even when they’re spotted on security cameras.
One reason for this is law enforcement’s lack of resources, which means theft cases sometimes are put on the back burner, he said. And, he added, the “defund the police” movement has sapped some officers’ morale.
“There’s no political will to prosecute the people in this climate. Why should a police officer waste time getting into an altercation when the person is not going to jail because it’s overcrowded and a prosecutor is not going to prosecute that case because it’s not high on the priority list?” Eliadis said.
“The takeaway is we need the political will, more prosecution and backing of law enforcement.”
Thieves may face few consequences
For example, Proposition 47, a California ballot initiative passed in 2014, sought to alleviate prison overcrowding by reducing the penalties for some crimes. The measure raised the threshold for felony theft from $500 to $950.
“For the low-level criminal, the benefit far outweighs the risk, since the threshold for a misdemeanor offense is $950 — meaning that a person can steal up to that amount and only be charged with a misdemeanor,” Buel said.
Organized crime rings are often behind these types of “smash-and-grab” operations and pay low-level criminals to steal for them, she said.
Security experts said dismantling these sophisticated crime groups must be a law enforcement priority.
“People see the ability to commit these ‘smash-and-grab incidents’ knowing that there is little consequence, especially if the thefts are kept below the threshold of a felony offense,” Buel said. “It’s easy, it’s fast, and the payback is good.”
The holidays provide more opportunities for theft
It’s not unusual for “smash and grabs” to increase around the Christmas holiday season, Buel said.
Stores stock up before the holidays, which means there’s a bounty of merchandise to pick from. That means more opportunities and more convenience for the smash-and-grabbers, she said.
“These brazen, violent crimes are committed by sophisticated criminal organizations that are involved in drug trafficking, human trafficking and other serious crimes,” Raoul said.
There are numerous places to sell stolen items
Once items are stolen, there are several ways to sell them — all extremely easy and with little regulation and monitoring from law enforcement, experts said. Most items grabbed in such cases have no serial numbers, making tracing them almost impossible, Eliadis said.
“It is incredibly easy to sell stolen merchandise online through e-commerce platforms,” Buel said. “E-commerce has really taken off as the place to sell stolen goods.”
Other thieves don’t need to sell their stolen goods on Craigslist or eBay. They can also use flea markets, pawn shops and street vendors. Thieves can sell expensive items at slashed prices, meaning there’s no shortage of buyers, Eliadis added.
The result is a ruthless cycle that affects everyone, Eliadis said. Some affected stores will shut down or relocate. And retailers plagued by thefts see their insurance rates and private security costs increase — costs that eventually get passed on the customer.
Why some US cities are facing a spree of ‘smash-and-grab’ crimes