MAPLEWOOD, Minn. (WCCO) -- Experts say the pandemic is fueling a stealing spree, where basically "flash mobs" of masked and armed people are bursting into stores and getting away with thousands of dollars' worth of merchandise.
From Chicago to California, organized criminal retail theft is on the rise. On Black Friday in the Twin Cities, three Best Buy stores were looted by a group that knew exactly what it was after.
Maplewood police say they are "aggressively pursuing" those responsible for a rash of mass thefts at Best Buy locations last Friday.
In a Wednesday morning press conference, Lt. Joe Steiner with the Maplewood Police Department confirmed that several leads have been developed and several suspects identified in connection to the thefts. He described the incident at his city's Best Buy as "very organized."
"They go into a store with a purpose, to steal a mass amount of merchandise in a short period of time," Steiner said.
Ten-to-sixteen people walked into the Maplewood store, overwhelming security, and taking what they wanted before running out and getting away in cars.
Prior to that grab-and-run, the Best Buy in Blaine was hit. Once again, thousands of dollars in merchandise, from televisions to hover boards, was taken.
In Burnsville, it was a larger group of 20-30 who made off with a large amount of electronics.
"It's the same group. It might vary with some of the individuals at the different locations, but overall it's the same group of people," Steiner said. "We've identified multiple suspects and we will be submitting the case to the county attorney's office for charging considerations."
He says Best Buy provided investigators with high-definition video and still photos of the people who entered the stores to steal.
At the press conference, Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension Superintendent Drew Evans said there has been an increase in organized criminal thefts such as these incidents.
"When these types of large-scale thefts occur, the costs are passed along to all the consumers," Evans said. "We will assist jurisdictions in whatever way we can to provide that assistance because we're not gonna tolerate organized criminal rings operating in the Twin Cities going around."
Video will not be released for a couple days due to the investigation still taking place.
Televisions, tablets, hoverboards and other high-value items were among the product stolen, police said. Just over $7,000 in items were taken in Maplewood, with a similar amount taken from the other locations.
It's believed most of the stolen items are sold in online marketplaces. Best Buy is lobbying for a federal law that would make the online re-selling of stolen goods more difficult.
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