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Criminal flash mobs a growing concern

POSTED August 31, 2011 8:15 a.m.
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During the last several years, people have been using various social networking programs like Facebook and Twitter to rapidly call for and organize large groups to assemble at specific locations and times. These instant groups have gathered for public dancing displays, parties, rallies, peaceful protests, fund raising events and any number of other fun and harmless activities. These kinds of gatherings have are now known as "flash mobs," because with a few computer keystrokes or by using smart phones, users can muster hundreds - even thousands - of people, for whatever purpose, on a moment's notice. And as we might have expected, vandals, thieves, gangs and other criminal elements have started using this same technology to commit crimes, create social disorder and engage in other forms of anti-social behaviour.

Some examples of flash mob activity that have manifested criminally are the large-scale riots in Great Britain. There have been roving bands of thugs in various U.S. cities that have been smashing windows, damaging buildings, burning cars, and beating innocent people who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. There was also the recent occasion when a rapper organized a flash mob at a mall. This event led to a very unstable crowd with many instances of public disorder and disturbing the peace. There have been reported occasions where flash mobs (now known as "flash robs") enter a local convenience store, overwhelming the clerks, stripping the shelves bare, destroying the property within and leaving destruction in their wakes. Not only do these criminal flash mobs operate without any sense of guilt, they are often exuberant about their property damage and their violent acts towards innocent people. The property they steal are seen as trophies that are owed to them anyway.

Some people assume that these criminal flash mobs are a symptom of the technology itself, but this hardly the case at all. The criminals and social miscreants have been here all along (although, perhaps not in such disproportionate numbers as compared to earlier decades), so social media merely serves as a high-tech tool helping them to act out crimes with greater sophistication, on a larger scale and with rapid-mobilization capabilities. Another aspect of flash mob crime is that the sheer number of those involved helps them maintain a measure of anonymity, which tends to perpetuate true mob behaviour and creates great challenges for law enforcement in terms of prevention and apprehension once these crimes have been committed.

It does not help that, in this nation, we have huge numbers of disaffected, unemployed "idle" young people who have little to look forward to. There are any number of reasons why some groups of young people act as thugs these days: outright resentment for the "establishment," disrespect for law and order and their fellow man, and a willingness to commit crimes with the belief that their perceived "victim" status justifies their unlawful and anti-social actions. The people who behave in this fashion are a product of an unraveling society where they have been told for decades that they are victims of circumstances beyond their control, that the government is evil and authority is to be disrespected and disobeyed. There has been a failure to infuse them with the concept that hard work and effort leads to success and a better lifestyle. They are provided with the ready-made excuse that their station in life is not their fault, and that they, by the very nature of their existence, have a lengthy and justified list of grievances against those who have greater prosperity than them and against society as a whole. And to make matters worse, many of them are lacking adequate reading, writing and communications skills, which are a sure recipe for disaster - not just for them, but for society as a whole.

The police cannot directly influence the societal ills described above, but we know it is our responsibility to do all that is possible to prevent and/or rapidly intervene when these criminal flash mobs go into action. Law enforcement will meet the criminal use of technology with technology; use enhanced investigative techniques and a heightened awareness of these activities. For sure, the very nature of criminal flash mobs creates new challenges for law enforcement, add to the degradation of the quality of life wherever they gather and pose new threats to the security and safety of all law-abiding citizens. Truly, we are at a "tipping point," where if things continue to progress as they are, the good members of this nation will have a dominating fear of thugs, gangs and criminals, and these same criminals will have nothing to fear because of their sheer numbers, their total disregard for their fellow beings and the law itself. We do not have to allow this tipping point to go to the next phase, which would be more instances of anarchy, mob violence and overall societal destruction.
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