Saturday, August 20, 2011

'Flash mobs' pose challenge to police tactics



Armed with cellphones and connected through Facebook, bands of young people have been rushing into stores to steal goods or assaulting bystanders in a spate of recent "flash mob" incidents across the USA.

Philadelphia leaders imposed an early curfew on parts of the city this month after roving bands of teens beat and robbed bystanders during violent attacks across the city. This week, surveillance cameras caught several dozen youths swarming into convenience stores in Germantown, Md., and Washington, D.C., and stealing armfuls of snacks and drinks as the store clerk looked on helplessly.

The suspects in these crimes often connected via cellphones and share information on social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook, police say.

How best to combat the technology-connected crimes — and how far police agencies should reach into private online and mobile phone access — are at the core of a growing debate among police officials, city leaders and civil rights activists. Everyone agrees: It's uncharted territory for law enforcement. (more)