All About Smash and Grab Robberies

At first glance, it would appear that the smash and grab robberies occurring in major retail outlets around the country during the holiday season have died down. But that is not necessarily the case.

As this is being written on February 1, 2022, a smash and grab incident in a shopping center south of San Francisco has just been reported. Five days earlier, a group of people wearing “puffy jackets” broke into a jewelry store near Boston, smashing display cases and stealing jewelry.

And a day before that, four suspects robbed a jewelry store in the Newport Beach area of California. They carried hammers, allowing them to smash glass displays and walk off with thousands of dollars in merchandise.

While it’s true crime does come in waves, it does not appear that the wave of smash-and-grab crimes is over. Robberies like these may continue. We don’t know.

Right now, there is much confusion about smash-and-grab crimes among law enforcement, risk management, and corporate security groups. Let’s clarify what we do know in the hopes that we can better understand these crimes, what’s behind them, and more important, develop ways to stop them.

What are smash and grab robberies?

According to Wikipedia, a smash-and-grab robbery “is a particular form of burglary or looting that involves smashing a barrier, usually a display window in a shop or a showcase, grabbing valuables, and then making a quick getaway, without concern for setting off alarms or creating noise.” The brazen nature of the robberies is what makes them so high profile. They tend to happen in daylight during working hours when shoppers are in the stores.

Are smash and grab robberies new?


The first rash of such robberies occurred in the 1930s during the Depression and continued into the 1950s. They then died down. However, in the 1980s, a different type of smash-and-grab robbery evolved. This involved cars and trucks smashing into stores and automatic teller machines. It was called ram-raiding and occurred in parts of Europe and Australia more than in North America. Eventually, ram-raiding diminished as more barriers and obstructions were built around commercial facilities.

To what extent are smash and grab robberies tied to organized crime?

The term “organized crime” is complicated. For decades, it referred to crimes committed by gangsters and mafia figures.

However, in California and some other states, there are laws and regulations addressing “organized retail theft,” also known as organized retail crime (ORC). This category encompasses many of these smash-and-grab robberies.

ORC is when at least two people work together to steal with the intent of selling the stolen merchandise to others. We should add that in some cases, thieves are hired to commit smash-and-grab robberies.  Everyone involved could be convicted under an organized theft law in such a situation.

Related to this is something new, referred to as a “flash mob.” A flash mob is a loosely organized group of people who all gather at a designated time and place to rob a store. The flash mob members may never have met each other before the robbery. They organize on social media, select a particular day and time to commit a robbery, and then separate to sell whatever they steal.

Some reports say laws are too lax when it comes to smash and grab crimes.

Is this the case?

In some states, the threshold of what separates a felony from a misdemeanor has changed in the past few years. For example, in California, the dollar value of a felony theft increased from $400.00 to $950.00. Therefore, all thefts under $950.00 are treated as misdemeanors.

A misdemeanor is a less severe crime, and most law enforcement agencies, which are struggling with staffing, are not investigating misdemeanors. Because of this, the Retail Industry Leaders Association and the Buy Safe America Coalition say that these laws have “effectively decriminalized robberies,” opening the doors to smash-and-grab robberies.

So, what can be done to prevent smash and grab robberies?

The best step retailers can take to help prevent a smash-and-grab incident is to have a risk assessment conducted.  This is a systematic process that looks for and identifies vulnerabilities, hazards, and risks. The risk assessment could recommend, for instance:

  • Burglary resistant or bullet proof glass be installed for display cases and/or windows.
  • Utilization of security devices to lock down high value merchandise
  • More surveillance video cameras be installed.
  • Spreading high-value/high-cost items throughout the store instead of concentrating them in just one area, which makes them easy to steal.
  • Installing discreetly hidden police call buttons.
  • In some cases, door buzzer entry systems may need to be installed. These are already in use in some very high-end jewelry stores

A professionally conducted risk assessment also would instruct store workers on how to act should a smash-and-grab incident happen on their watch and what steps they should take to protect themselves as well as shoppers.

On its own, this type of assessment will not prevent all smash-and-grab robberies.  Instead, the goal is to significantly minimize the possibility that these robberies happen to your facility and to ensure the safety of your staff and your customers should they happen.

Johnathan Tal is Chief Executive Officer of TAL Global Corporation, an international investigative and security-consulting firm. His firm works with retailers around the world helping to prevent robberies, minimize risks, and promote safety. He is a licensed investigator, former President of World Association of Detectives (2000-2001) and holds a Bachelor of Science degree.  He can be reached through his company website at

© TAL Global, 2019