Bear Spray Used in Latest Smash-and-Grab Robbery at Los Angeles Mall

A Nordstrom store in a mall in Los Angeles County was robbed Wednesday evening by thieves who used a chemical spray on a security guard to get inside the building.

The store, which is located at the Westfield Topanga & The Village shopping mall in Canoga Park, was hit by a group of thieves shortly before 7 p.m. local time as some shoppers were still inside the store, according to KABC-TV.

Deputy Chief Alan Hamilton with the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) told KTLA-TV that one of the thieves pushed and sprayed a security guard at the store with "some kind of chemical substance" as others within the group rushed inside to grab items. "A number of high-value handbags" were among the items taken during the robbery, Hamilton said.

Nordstrom smash-and-grab bear spray
Los Angeles police said Wednesday night they were investigating a retail theft reported at a Nordstrom store in the Topanga Mall during which a security guard was sprayed with bear spray. Above, a Nordstrom department store is photographed on April 29, 2020, in Arlington, Virginia. OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images

A Nordstrom employee who spoke with KTLA described thieves smashing displays to access handbags and other small items. She said she had "multiple co-workers who were struggling to open their eyes" after the chemical spray was deployed, with one co-worker experiencing burns on their face and another having trouble breathing.

KABC-TV reported early Thursday morning that police identified the chemical irritant used on the security guard as bear spray. The LAPD also said bear spray was used on the security guard during the theft at the Topanga Mall Nordstrom in a press release issued late Wednesday night.

After grabbing items inside the store, the thieves fled the mall in a vehicle that was awaiting them just outside, Hamilton told KTLA. He described the vehicle as a gray or blue Ford Mustang.

The LAPD said in its Wednesday evening press release it was investigating the Nordstrom incident and another "flash mob" theft that occurred near Beverly Hills and West Hollywood at the Beverly Center. In the second incident, "groups of suspects" went into multiple stores at the shopping mall taking items as they went, police said.

The Wednesday incidents are the latest in a wave of retail thefts that have been reported over the last couple of weeks around Los Angeles and the Bay Area. Some of the thefts that have occurred in the last week involved dozens of people stealing items simultaneously in what law enforcement officials have said they suspect were coordinated efforts.

California Governor Gavin Newsom responded to the retail thefts earlier this week by instructing the California Highway Patrol to boost patrol around major retail hubs throughout the holiday season.

In Southern California, the LAPD this month announced a task force to investigate what are described as "follow-home" robberies. Regarding the recent rise in retail thefts, Hamilton told KABC-TV that holiday shoppers could expect to see an elevated police presence in the weeks to come.

"We're putting extra resources towards it this holiday season," he told the station. "You're going to see a lot of us, a lot more than you would normally see us."

Newsweek reached out to Nordstrom for comment on the Wednesday evening robbery and will update this article with any response.