Florida, North Carolina Latest States Dealing With Spike of Smash-and-Grab Robberies

As the U.S. has seen an uptick in organized retail theft, authorities in North Carolina and Florida are contending with a wave of smash-and-grab robberies.

Officials in Florida announced Thursday they have created a new task force dedicated to combating retail theft. Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody said she had launched the Florida Organized Retail Crime Exchange, "a first-of-its-kind, statewide task force and a new interactive database to help spot trends, identify suspects and take down massive, organized retail theft rings."

"We are seeing lawlessness and out-of-control mobs preying on businesses and consumers in major cities outside of Florida, and we will not allow these crime sprees to harm Floridians or our retailers," Moody said in a statement. "While we have done a good job of catching and prosecuting major retail theft rings in Florida, the threat is growing, and we must evolve with it."

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said in the statement that organized retail theft "is a huge problem in Florida and across the nation."

"Our family members, friends, and fellow citizens are being ripped off when they shop—they are being ripped off by thieves every time we make a purchase. How? The organized retail criminal is driving prices higher by systematically and strategically taking advantage of our open and trusting society," the sheriff said.

Moody said her office has received 60 cases related to organized retail theft since she entered office in 2019, according to Tampa news station WTVT.

In North Carolina, small businesses are seeing smash-and-grab robberies. This week, thieves stole tens of thousands of dollars' worth of handbags from a store in Cary. News station WTVD reported that the business, J'Adore Boutique, had to repair its door following the smash-and-grab theft.

Florida, North Carolina Dealing with Smash-and-Grab Robberies
Stores in North Carolina and Florida have increased security in response to a spike in thefts. Above, a worker removes wood paneling used to secure a store near San Francisco's Union Square on Tuesday. Ethan Swope

"This is not your typical shoplifter that's stealing a pair of sunglasses. These are organized crime rings," said North Carolina Retail Merchants Association President Andy Ellen told the station.

"To see violence or other acts of theft in their stores is really disheartening at such a crucial time, especially as we head into the holidays, where it's very key to them making it to the other side of COVID, that they do well financially," Ellen added.

California has seen some of the most dramatic acts of organized retail theft in recent weeks. In November, 80 people entered a Nordstrom store in Walnut Creek and stole merchandise. A video of the incident, showing people running from the Bay Area store, went viral.

That incident came just a day after people looted and ransacked stores in San Francisco's Union Square, including Louis Vuitton and Yves Saint Laurent.