As Montgomery County Police close in on a string of arrests for the "flash mob" theft at a 7-Eleven in Germantown, social media websites are proving to have been less a tool for coordinating the Aug. 13 crime and more for bringing its participants to justice.
The global flash mob phenomenon started out as an exercise in public performance—dancing or singing at a mall or public venue, for example—coordinated via social media websites like Twitter and Facebook. Out of that performance art emerged crimes where perpetrators find anonymity and safety in numbers.
Surveillance footage from the 7-Eleven at 13001 Wisteria Drive shows two dozen suspects entering the convenience store en masse, grabbing snacks before leaving. Police posted the footage on their YouTube channel two days later, which has since tallied more than 140,000 views.
The incident quickly made national news, with Chief J. Thomas Manger appearing on CNN and County Executive Isiah Leggett telling on NPR that the incident was proof that his proposed youth curfew legislation is needed.
The social media component seems to have been missing from the Germantown case. Investigators believe that the suspects may have hatched their scheme earlier that night at the Montgomery County Agricultural Fair, before catching the last bus to Germantown.
"They did it the old-fashioned way," said Cpt. Paul Starks, a police spokesman.
So far, police have identified 16 of the 25 suspects and plan to make arrests this week, Starks said. Most are county residents, according to police.
The bulk of those positive ID’s came after investigators turned to the in-school police officer for Germantown and pored through Facebook profiles and high school yearbooks.
Unlike other flash mob crimes, where perpetrators tend to go unnamed, the arrests will make would-be criminals second guess the tactic, said Lt. Paul Liquorie, deputy director of the Criminal Investigations Division.
"This sends the message that you’re not granted anonymity because of what you did," Liquorie said. "We’re not going to let them just get away with this."