The FBI, and its steward, the DOJ, desperately need to rehabilitate their current image. Both agencies have been pilloried recently and for good reason. They need to get back to basics, out of the partisan fire and back into the frying pan of crime fighting. The alarming spike in what can best be described as “non-riot looting” is their opportunity.
Here is the three-step blueprint for their much needed comeback.
First, designate the groups that are mob-robbing stores as “Organized Crime / Non-traditional” gangs. This is a term used by the FBI to identify crime rings that are anything other than the Cosa Nostra (Mafia). The “Organized Crime / Non-traditional” designation historically has been used to target Asian gangs, Russian mobs, South American and Mexican cartels, Jamaican posses, and California street gangs. This designation now needs to be applied to “Rob Mobs”, organized theft rings that operate like flash mobs which target, overwhelm and plunder businesses and retail stores.
Whereas these groups first came on the scene as small-scale and spontaneous, they have transmogrified into large-scale, well-planned attacks. Initially, these looting sprees were essentially mass larcenies with the threat of violence. Now, we have witnessed it descend into organized chaos, groups now using pepper spray and physical assaulting store employees, security and customers. On November 27 this year, a retired California police officer, providing security for a television crew (who ironically was filming a segment on the spike in violent retail theft) was shot and killed trying to prevent the robbery of the news crew.
Second, the Racketeer Influenced & Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) needs to be brought to bear. This federal statute was enacted in 1970 and was originally used to target and dismantle the Mafia; later, it was creatively applied to other groups, including labor unions, street gangs, private companies, investment firms, health care providers, and even judges and police departments. The definition is broad, its application far-reaching and the penalties harsh. Anyone within a loosely knit criminal group only needs to be involved in two incidents within a ten-year period, and the law has since been expanded to include robbery and theft.
Finally, FBI led task forces need to focus on identifying, infiltrating and electronically monitoring these groups. Informants and cooperating witnesses need to be developed in order to identify the organizers. Rewards for information leading to convictions need to be publicized. As these groups often utilize social platforms to communicate on a large scale, intelligence analysts should be assigned. Additionally, Title IIIs (wiretaps) need to be applied for cell phones and any electronic devices used by the organizers who are coordinating these retail attacks. Grand juries then need to be convened.
Once this is done, it comes down to planning and tactics. When a plot to loot a store has been discovered, there needs to be a large-scale deployment of law enforcement personnel nearby that can swiftly respond and lock down the area. These criminals all have one thing in common: they arrive in a vehicle, or else they cannot escape with their ill-gotten gains, aka loot. Streets need to be shut down to prevent car chases. Good quality video from drones and aircraft is essential in identifying participants in order to support detention, arrest and prosecution. High cash federal bonds need to be set. Any motor vehicles used should be seized, inventoried, impounded and forfeited as a further disincentive.
The alternative is anarchy. Initially these groups were small, usually under a dozen; unchecked, they got bigger and bolder, with reports of some groups as large as 80. Whereas they were once content with small convenience stores, Rob-Mobs are now targeting high-end businesses such as Apple, Gucci and Nordstroms. Even home improvement stores are being victimized, as looters help themselves to hammers and crowbars, so that they have the tools they need to smash the display cases and glass counters of their next target.
If unchecked, the repercussions of this trend will soon crush brick-and-mortar stores, as well as impact consumers. The price of goods will continue to increase, not just due to inflation or supply-chain issues, but to offset the losses of the thefts, as well as the costs of damage to the stores, increased hiring of security personnel, reduction in store hours, loss of future revenue, retention of employees, and so on. Amazon will continue to profit, as customers will find it safer to shop on-line so as to avoid the risk of being caught inside a mall or store that gets mob-looted. The police and private security, ham-strung by unrealistic policies limiting their ability to intercede, will simply document damage and losses, then go back to work.
This is war, and in The Art of War, Sun-Tzu wrote: “In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity.” The FBI needs to reclaim its crime-fighting image, and here is their opportunity.