Flash mobs in California: Repeat attacks ‘may be copycat crime’

Image copyright ABS Image caption In just three days in late May, 16 cars were targeted

Investigators are trying to establish whether an attack on vehicles in two California cities linked to flash mobs could be a copycat crime, police say.

In May, several cars were targeted by people jumping out and taking vehicles in San Francisco and Fremont.

Last weekend, flash mobs also targeted cars in San Leandro and Berkeley.

Police believe the drive-by assaults may be linked to a series of flash mob attacks.

Shootings, robberies and break-ins have occurred in the past month in San Francisco, Fremont, San Leandro and Oakland, according to local media reports.

The Oakland, California, shootings and a stabbing have been linked to the series of robberies by a gang of 40 young people.

Image copyright ABS Image caption One suspect is still at large. Detectives are reviewing security camera footage from the Fresno area

San Francisco police arrested three men they suspected were involved in the May robberies, Fremont police have said.

The culprits responsible for the recent drive-by attacks in San Leandro, Berkeley and San Leandro – not connected to the car smash-and-grab spree earlier this month – are still at large.

In the past, burglars have used flash mobs to target cars, but there has been no indication these were involved in the cars-on-wheels violence that hit the region on 15 and 16 June.

Image copyright Reuters Image caption The violence has spanned San Francisco, Fremont, San Leandro and Oakland

Experts say it is likely they have similarities, and that some of the victims may have become victims in another flash mob or robbery spree.

A team of police investigators from the California Department of Justice and the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department are studying footage from dashcams and security cameras and from multiple eye witnesses.

Image copyright Reuters Image caption People are urged to be cautious when walking or driving in a flash mob-style, where it is difficult to see a group of people

Andrew Hawkins, a spokesman for the San Leandro Police Department, told the BBC he had not had any reports about flash mobs in the city, but “that is going to be part of the investigation”.

He told the BBC that it was rare for cars to be targeted in San Leandro.

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Police have given this appeal for info from the public

In an online post, San Francisco police urged people to be cautious when driving in the city.

“Do not assume you know the person you are driving by in a car-particular because flash mobs follow one another,” it said.

“Additionally, it is not an uncommon occurrence for flash mobs to follow a different method.

“In one instance, the flash mob follows an individual into a restaurant and then tracks them out. You never know if that person is followed and in your blind spot are groups of flash mob pedestrians.”

The police said residents should drive carefully in areas where they felt there was a high risk of being followed by vehicles.

The authorities have also asked motorists to stay alert when driving in any areas where people are wearing hooded sweatshirts, or dark-coloured clothes.

Find out more about how to stay safe in a flash mob-style event here.

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