Like most other people, when you hear the word "flash mob" you probably think of a group of people that suddenly breaks out into a finely choreographed dance or series of movements in the middle of a public place, like a mall or bus or train station. They're usually staged as entertainment, but sometimes they're used to raise awareness about some political or social issue important to those performing.
Oh, how times have changed. Today, some flash mobs don't have such good intentions - they're turning to crime.
Summoning a Mob
Participants are told when and where to meet, and because participants almost always use mobile devices like cell and smartphones, meeting places and times can change almost instantly. This is key to the flash mob idea because surprise is part of the goal.
In 2011, flash mobs gathered in cities across the country and wreaked havoc. For the most part, the mobs were made up of teenagers, and they committed all sorts of crimes, from shoplifting to assault to robbery. For example:
- In Philadelphia, flash mobs assaulted pedestrians and vandalized property. One participant pled guilty to aggravated assault for beating and stabbing a bicyclist. He faces 5 to 20 years in prison
- Flash mobs in Chicago are responsible for robberies and assaults, and even causing a McDonald's restaurant to close for several hours
- In St. Paul, Minnesota and Las Vegas, flash mobs targeted convenient stores, stealing whatever they could and fleeing before police could respond
What's Being Done
Law enforcement agencies in these and other cities victimized by criminal flash mobs are taking steps to protect the public and stop the crime. For instance, Philadelphia officials are:
- Stepping up enforcement of curfews on times when minors may be out in public areas without parents or adults
- Holding parents responsible for their children's illegal activities, as is the case in many states and cities across the US
- Asking the FBI with help monitoring social web sites
These are all good ideas, and hopefully they help to stem the tide.
There are things you can and should do to protect yourself and your family from being victimized by a flash mob.
For the general public:
- Be aware of where you are and who's around you. Stay away from known problem areas and be suspicious of any large group of teenagers or young adults in public areas
- Avoid traveling alone on city streets, parking lots, mass transit stations and other public places, especially late at night and in the early morning
- Contact your state and local lawmakers about creating and/or enforcing curfew and parental responsibility laws
- Talk to your children (again!) about the serious consequences of criminal activities, even for teenagers
- Remind your children that even a "prank" can mean legal trouble
- Get involved in your child's online activities. Be a "Friend" to or "Like" your child's personal web pages and track what's going on
- Explain to your children how you may be legally responsible for their activities and how it could disrupt the entire family's lives
For would-be participants, simply don't do it:
- Avoid any flash mob you know beforehand involves criminal activities, whether it's violent (assault) or not (property damage)
- Give police an anonymous tip on any flash mob you believe may involve criminal activities
- Leave the area immediately once you realize a flash mob is getting out of hand and crimes are happening
Flash mobs that result in thefts, assaults and other crimes aren't amusing or entertaining. Hopefully, they're a dangerous fad that will die out soon. In the meantime, rest assured that police departments across the US are working on the problem and will hold participants and their parents legally responsible to fullest extent possible.
Questions for Your Attorney
- Are parents in my state legally responsible for their children's illegal conduct?
- At what age can I force my child to leave my home?
- Can I get access to my child's private information and communications on a social web site or cell phone?