Police in a small San Francisco Bay Area community were about to help authorities in neighboring Oakland keep the peace during a protest when a more pressing crisis hit home: Groups of thieves had pillaged malls, set fire to a Walmart, and stormed a car dealership. By the time San Leandro officers arrived at the Dodge dealership, dozens of cars were gone and thieves were peeling out of the lot in $100,000 Challenger Hellcat muscle cars. The AP reports 75 vehicles were stolen Sunday, including models driven through glass showroom doors to escape. It's one of the most brazen heists law enforcement has seen in a wave of thefts nationwide—including in Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago—targeting big-box electronics stores, jewelry shops, and luxury designers while officers have been busy with the George Floyd protests.
"It was very strategic," Sgt. Ray Kelly of the Alameda County Sheriff's Office says of the auto thefts and other recent heists. Many of the smash-and-grab thefts have coincided with or followed protests over the death of Floyd, carried out by caravans of well-coordinated criminals who capitalize on chaos, communicate via messaging apps, and use both the protests and other tactics to throw cops off their trail. It's hardly the first time legitimate protest has been used as a cover for crime, but crime experts note the scale of the thefts, as they've taken place coast to coast, in big and small cities and in suburbs. "I've been a student of these things. And I have never seen anything like it," says Neil Sullivan, a nationally recognized expert on mass-events security and retired Chicago Police Department commander. More here on the nationwide thefts.
(Read more protests