Police: Even with video, it's hard to make arrests in 'flash robs'

PORTLAND, Ore. - Even with surveillance video showing teenagers grabbing stuff from stores during so-called 'flash robs,' police say it's not easy to hold them accountable.

'Flash robs' are when groups of teenage thieves meet up and swarm stores, stealing items. There have been two recent high-profile 'flash robs' in Portland. One was at the Nordstrom in the Lloyd Center and the other at a Southeast Portland Chevron convenience store.

Police say they've identified and questioned several kids seen in the surveillance video from the Chevron, but those teens may not face any consequences. The same thing goes for the kids in the Nordstrom theft.

A spokeswoman at Nordstrom says the faces of three of the 10 kids who swarmed the store late last week can be seen in the store's surveillance video. Police have yet to release that video.
But even with proof, it's a minor theft crime in court and the thieves would maybe get probation for community service - and even that may not happen.

"We can't just decide to have consequences when we don't have the supporting documentation or evidence to do that," said Portland police spokesman Pete Simpson.

For example, one teenager in a gray sweatshirt can be seen in the convenience store's surveillance video clearly grabbing something and putting it in his pocket. But even when the video is slowed down, the object is unidentifiable, making the video nearly useless as evidence. Additionally, the kid walks out of the picture, making it hard to prove he stole the item.

Simpson acknowledged that being unable to punish the teens may be teaching them there are no consequences for their actions.

"That's the frustrating side of law enforcement," he said. "A lot of times I know people who did things, I just can't prove it."

Another problem police face is a lack of resources. When they have gang shootings and house break-ins, they say they can't send detectives on a shoplifting case no matter how many kids are involved.