Grassley demands briefing from DHS, DOJ on strategy to combat spike in smash-and-grab attacks across US

Smash-and-grab robberies organized through social media: Police

Fox News correspondent Claudia Cowan reports on online tactics criminals use to coordinate crimes.

FIRST ON FOX: Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley is demanding the Justice Department (DOJ) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) explain its strategy to address the spike in organized retail theft and “smash-and-grab” attacks on businesses across the nation.

Smash-and-grab looters have been targeting stores across the nation in recent weeks, robbing retailers of thousands of dollars in merchandise in cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Seattle, New York and Minneapolis.

Grassley, R-Iowa, requested a briefing from DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Attorney General Merrick Garland on the status of organized retail crime across the United States, as well as the steps federal law enforcement are currently taking against this type of crime.

“While ordinary retail theft is a matter best handled by local law enforcement, the recent spate of flash-mob attacks appear to rely on organized criminal rings and internet communication, both for coordinating attacks as well as for the resale of stolen goods, which invoke the jurisdiction of federal law enforcement,” Grassley wrote in separate letters to Mayorkas and Garland, obtained exclusively by Fox News.

“It is particularly troublesome if the Department of Justice takes an interest in working to prevent an alleged ‘spike in harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence’ against local school administrators, act that are often minor violations of local law, or even noncriminal, but is not able to devote sufficient resources to combating organized criminal rings operating in cities across the country and the interstate transportation of stolen goods,” Grassley wrote.

Grassley was referring to the Justice Department’s efforts this fall to “use its authority and resources” to identify threats at school board meetings against faculty, and “prosecute them when appropriate.”

Garland, in a memo to the FBI, DOJ’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorneys’ offices, said the FBI would partner with local law enforcement, and each U.S. attorney, to convene meetings with federal, state, local, tribal and territorial leaders in each federal district within 30 days. Garland said the meetings would “facilitate the discussion of strategies for addressing threats against school administrators, board members, teachers and staff, and will open dedicated lines of communication for threat reporting, assessment and response.”

The memo also announced that the FBI’s involvement would help to “determine how federal enforcement can be used to prosecute these crimes.” 

The memo was sent after the National School Boards Association (NSBA) sent a letter to Garland citing instances, including nonviolent behavior that did not include threats, but that was deemed disruptive. The NSBA had called for the use of measures, including the Patriot Act, which is typically used to address terrorism. Their second letter said they “regret and apologize for the letter,” stating that “there was no justification for some of the language” they had used.

Meanwhile, in his letters, Grassley cited the National Retail Federation, which reported that 69% of retailers have seen an increase in organized retail crime over the last year. The National Retail Federation also reported that 78% of retailers believe that “greater federal law-enforcement activity would effectively combat organized retail crime.” 

Grassley also cited attacks last month in California — specifically, one in the suburban Bay Area, where 80 people attacked a Nordstrom department store and left with up to $200,000 worth of merchandise. Local officials called that incident a “clearly planned event.”

Grassley also cited attacks in Los Angeles, with mobs stealing around $380,000 worth of merchandise, which he said police believe “are planned attacks designed to acquire merchandise for the purpose of reselling it.”

“I would like to know how the agencies under your authority are working on this important issue, what they are finding in terms of trends, which sections of the criminal code provide the best tools for enforcement, what initiatives they are undertaking on this issue, what additional legislative tools might be necessary in that regard, and what further steps can be taken to combat organized retail crime,” Grassley wrote.

Grassley asked that staff for both Mayorkas and Garland contact his office to set up a briefing.

Meanwhile, the White House said earlier this month that the root cause of the spike in organized retail crime is the COVID-19 pandemic, while stressing that administration officials are working with a number of communities across the nation to “crack down” on crime in those neighborhoods.

Earlier this month, DOJ announced that San Francisco and Los Angeles will get funding to hire 50 and 20 more police officers, respectively, through the $140 million Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program President Biden has championed. 

The National Retail Federation reported that the cities most affected by organized retail crime are Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, New York and Miami in the top five, followed by Houston, Atlanta, Sacramento, Baltimore, Las Vegas and Seattle.

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