Ottawa police fear 'flash robs' on the rise

Ottawa police have yet to make an arrest in what is believed to be one of the first cases of a 'flash rob' in the city.
Ottawa police officials are worried that organized swarming could catch on in the city after an incident at a west-end store on July 16. (YouTube)

Ottawa police have yet to make an arrest in what is believed to be one of the first cases of a "flash rob" in the city.

Police suspect instant messaging played a role in organizing the July 16 looting of a local convenience store, in which a large group schemed on the Internet to steal items at the same time.

And now the Internet might also play a role in helping police catch the looters.

In a video that was posted on the Internet, more than 40 young men enter the store on Parkdale Avenue in the city's west end at the same time. They grab soft drinks, chocolate bars and bags of chips before making a quick exit without paying for any of it. They seem unconcerned that their faces appear on the overhead monitor — or that their crime is being captured on videotape.

The video has already received tens of thousands of hits.

"It's crazy. It's organized, right?" said Terry Chun, interviewed outside the store.

Criminologists worry that the flash rob is the start of a disturbing trend, given that there have been a rash of similar lootings recently in the United States.

"If you look at the U.S. events, these have resulted in people getting hurt, so I think we're lucky to have an event where no one was physically hurt, but I think it means we have to look at what we're doing and how to stop it," said Irvin Waller, a criminologist at the University of Ottawa.

Ottawa police are trying to come up with ways to better tap into social media sites in the hope that they can get the jump on flash robs like this. In the meantime, they want anyone who's seen this videotape and knows any of the suspects to give them a call.

"The video is an important tool for the investigation. It helps put faces to the suspects. Now it's just to get names for these people to arrest them and charge them," said Ottawa Police Const. Marc Soucy.

Despite the fact that so many people have looked at this videotape, police have yet to receive any tips from the public about who the looters might be.

The investigation continues.

In the meantime, police suggest that if a store clerk is caught up in a flash rob, he or she should not resist, but should call police after the group leaves the store.