- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 28, 2011

Montgomery County officials are exploring ways to stem a troubling trend of juvenile flash-mob thefts, including by drafting a bill specifically tailored to prosecute mob-related crime.

Montgomery County Council member Craig Rice said lawmakers are in discussion with the state delegation on the possibility of introducing legislation in next year’s General Assembly session to specifically address crimes committed as part of a mob.

Talk of such a bill was prompted by a recent mass theft at a Germantown 7-Eleven, where dozens of young people returning home from the Montgomery County Fair simultaneously entered the store and began brazenly stealing candy bars, chips and sodas, police said.

“I think that the message is clear: You’ve got a community that’s come together and is saying that we no longer are going to tolerate things like this happening,” Mr. Rice said Friday, as police announced charges against many of the youths involved. “We have to make a stand and show that our community, the Germantown community, is a growing community that is safe.”

“Flash mob” robberies and attacks, in which packs of young people appear seemingly spontaneously and commit assaults or thefts, have drawn national attention, most notably for recent incidents in Philadelphia.

Officials declined to label the Germantown incident, which lasted just about a minute and was captured on surveillance video, a “flash mob” because it was not organized online or via social networking.

“This was not organized by a tweet [or on] Facebook,” Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy said. “It was something more dynamic and occurred on the walk from the bus station to the 7-Eleven.”

“It doesn’t mean their conduct is any less culpable,” said Capt. Luther Reynolds, a police commander.

Mr. Rice, a Democrat, also refused to draw any conclusions from the fact that those involved in the Germantown incident were black.

“This is not an African-American problem,” he said. “This is a problem with youth and making sure they understand the repercussions and the seriousness of the crimes that were committed.”

The group stole about $450 worth of items and individuals involved are now charged with theft, conspiracy to commit theft, and disorderly conduct, Mr. McCarthy said.

Police thus far have identified 17 people, including 14 juveniles, involved in the incident and are still seeking help in identifying seven others seen on surveillance footage inside the store to determine whether they were also involved.

In addition to the possibility of a new mob law, police say a youth curfew, which is already under discussion by the County Council, might have prevented the incident.

“If we had a curfew law on the books … it’s something that could have helped us if youth are out at 1:40 a.m.,” Capt. Reynolds said.

The juveniles who were charged will have their cases evaluated first by the Department of Juvenile Services, which will make the determination on whether they will be referred to the State’s Attorney’s Office for prosecution, Mr. McCarthy said. The three young adults who were also charged will have their cases heard in Montgomery County District Court.