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California: In groups and organized by social networks: this is the wave of lightning robberies that terrorizes San Francisco | International

The Louis Vuitton store in Union Square was closed after dozens of thieves looted on Sunday.Danielle Echeverria (AP)

The San Francisco metropolitan area is experiencing a severe insecurity crisis. The disease showed one of the most worrying symptoms last weekend when dozens of people stormed luxury stores and marijuana dispensaries in five cities in the region, famous for being the cradle of pacifism of the sixties and a mecca of technology. Union Square, the heart of this Californian city, has received a severe criminal blow. The boutiques of the most exclusive brands have closed their doors this week after being looted. Those that have been opened are guarded by police patrols. In the minds of many dependents the same fear is repeated. This will happen again sooner rather than later.

“It’s just unacceptable,” Gavin Newsom, the California governor, called the situation. The president visited San Francisco this week and confessed to the press that the store in the city of the wine and spirits company he owns, PlumpJack, has suffered three robbery attempts this year. Newsom, who ruled San Francisco between 2004 and 2010, has promised better coordination between the authorities and the support of a special support force to fight the gangs of robbers who have been looting businesses in this city and in the towns of Walnut Creek for months. , San Jose, Hayward and Oakland.

San Francisco historically has one of the highest business robbery rates in California. The state average was, before the pandemic, about 2,000 per 100,000 residents. That of the city was above 4,000. In the region, the immense fortunes of technological companies are mixed with the misery of the homeless, a phenomenon that does not recede despite the advance of the city. Merchants have developed a high tolerance for this type of theft, but businessmen and authorities have noted with concern a pattern that had not been seen previously.

Dozens of people organize themselves through social networks and choose the place where they will strike. This arrives in the form of a mob armed with bars and hammers, with which windows and shop windows are broken. A cyclone enters where each person takes what they can in a few seconds, putting the loot in garbage bags. Quickly fleeing cars await them outside the shops.

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“We have information that it is a collective of people, several groups that join forces by social media applications to commit these robberies,” explained San Francisco Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong.

About 80 masked robbers broke into the Nordstrom department store in Walnut Creek in East San Francisco on Saturday. They didn’t make it past the first floor before fleeing in 25 cars. The day before, it had been the turn of the Louis Vuitton boutique in Union Square, where 40 people arrived. A clothing store in Oakland was also ransacked by some thirty vandals. The local prosecutor’s office has initiated a criminal process only against nine detained people. A local law makes it more difficult to combat this type of crime, since it considers theft serious if the amount stolen exceeds $ 950.

“I wouldn’t even qualify it as organized crime, that was domestic terrorism,” Rachel Michelin, president of the California Retail Association, told Fox’s local network after the wave of assaults suffered over the weekend.

Although some of these behaviors can be described as hooliganism, the police have warned that some groups operate with open hostility towards the authorities. The Oakland police chief explained this week that the robbers fired more than 170 shots on Friday, November 19, when they were confronted by officers to prevent them from breaking in to empty marijuana dispensaries.

Worry has given way to scandal. Recently, a video was made public where a police patrol observes, without doing anything, how three assailants, who were not armed, flee seconds after leaving a store with bags full of merchandise. The material recorded by a security camera has raised the spirits in a community that is looking for explanations in the middle of this wave fueled in 2021 after the gradual reopening of shops after the closures forced by the pandemic.

Some large chains have publicly complained about the situation, which has been going on for months. The Walgreens pharmacy empire reported this year that it would shut down five stores in San Francisco due to the increase in thefts. Its competition, CVS, has indicated that, at the national level, they have registered a 300% increase in thefts within their stores since the beginning of the pandemic, which generates losses of 200 million dollars (0.1% of the annual earnings). Target, the US retail giant, also cut hours of operation at five stores in the city in an effort to curb bleeding. “In recent months, we have experienced a significant and alarming increase in thefts and security incidents at our San Francisco stores,” reported a spokeswoman. The message had an alert buzzer just as the United States enters the holiday season.

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