'Flash mob' burglaries concern law enforcers

- A so-called "flash mob" burglary in Lakeland this week is putting the focus on an crime trend in the Bay Area that has law enforcement on alert.

As many as 10 burglars broke into downtown Lakeland's Urban Appeal clothing shop Thursday and stole $56,000 worth of denim apparel.

"They were very organized," said Lakeland police spokesperson Sgt. Gary Gross. "They had a plan. They executed it and they cleaned the store out."

Surveillance video shows the burglars, who were wearing masks and gloves, jamming dozens of pairs of jeans into black plastic bags. As the ran out, several dropped jeans on the ground. It's unclear if that crime is connected to previous "flash mob" burglaries, but there have been several.

During the last six months, an organized crime ring of teenagers has stolen guns from a store in Tampa, cars from a dealership in Hernando County and high-prices electronics from a Target store in Spring Hill.

"I think we've seen it more here in the last several months. It appears to be a [modus operandi] that has not only happened here but across the state," said Det. Larry McKinnon with the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.

Each of the smash-and-grab style burglaries have been recorded on surveillance video. McKinnon said it's clear why these kinds of crimes have an appeal to some people. 

"They may be able to grab more merchandise, therefore the amount that they're able to get in such a short time is larger," he said. "But it doesn't matter. If it's one or 10 [criminals], we're going to find them, we're going to hunt them down and we're going to put them in jail."

McKinnon added it can sometimes help them track down the criminals when there are more of them involved.

"It creates more an environment for individuals to talk or brag because most of these criminals like to brag about their illegal endeavors," he said.

As is the case with all crimes, any kind of tip can help. Anyone with information about any of these cases should call local law enforcement or Crime Stoppers.

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