Here’s a new vocabulary phrase, Chicago: “Flash mob robbery crews.”
No, these aren’t the caravans that pull up to high-end retailers downtown and raid stores for merchandise.
These, according to multiple sources within law enforcement and city government, are cars loaded with sometimes-armed people who are driving to Wicker Park, Bucktown, Lakeview, Lincoln Park, and other neighborhoods to carry out street robbery sprees.
That’s right. Police now believe the huge surge in robberies and occasional carjackings are the work of groups of people who travel in two or three cars to a part of the city with the sole purpose of robbing people on the street— sometimes eight people at a time.
It’s a crime wave that appears to be motivated more by a desire to scare and hurt people than to make money. However, the cash is undoubtedly a nice bonus.
More on this new phenomenon after we tell you about the crews’ latest hit. It was in Lakeview just after 11 p.m. last night.
A 24-year-old man and a 25-year-old woman were walking on the 1000 block of West Oakdale when four men stepped out of a small crossover SUV, according to witnesses and a CPD spokesperson.
Two of the carjackers displayed handguns and demanded the victims’ property. They beat the man in the head with a firearm repeatedly, the police spokesperson said. One witness reported seeing the offenders chasing the victims.
The crew collected the couple’s phones, a wallet, and a purse, then drove away.
Police searched the area for the offenders, described as four Black males in their teens or early 20s who wore dark clothing. One of them wore a yellow mask. No arrests were made.
A source said the robbery crew used a car that’s linked to robberies earlier this week in Lakeview and West Town. During a wave of armed robberies that claimed 14 victims across the area on Wednesday, one of the offenders was repeatedly described as wearing an orange mask. During one of those robberies, witnesses reported seeing the offenders chasing victims down the street. Victims were pistol-whipped during robberies that involved the orange-masked offender Wednesday.
“We gonna get them federal boys in here”
Investigators now understand that two or three carloads of people are traveling to the city’s North Side and West Town where they separate and commit a quick burst of robberies, usually during the later evening hours, according to officials with knowledge of the crimes.
They operate on sidestreets, possibly to avoid the CPD’s sprawling camera and license plate detection systems. Over the past few weeks, several victims told CWBChicago that they believed the robbers came from a vehicle that was sitting near the mouth of an alley when they passed on a nearby sidewalk.
Similar robbery sprees and actions like firing gunshots and pistol-whipping victims first sprang up in the West Town area, including Wicker Park and Bucktown, in the fall. Now, they’ve made their way to the North Side. Over time, police realized that victims during a single spree often described two or three different getaway cars — a minivan and a sedan, for example. Perhaps a small Mazda SUV, a blue sedan, and a red Charger. The reason became clear: There was more than one team at work in the same area at the same time. And that has continued to happen over and over again.
Police don’t know if the same people have been involved for the past few months or if the crews are more transient.
“It’s like the Wild West,” one official hypothesized, harkening back to outlaws who operated together and then spun off to create their own groups.
Several sources suggested that the teams appear to be motivated by the thrill of scaring and hurting people. Some expressed concern that the teams’ more violent members will become bored with pistol-whipping and firing guns into the air.
“It’s a pretty quick trip from firing into the air and beating someone with a pistol to shooting someone in the leg, or worse,” said one.
As the robbery teams swept from Lincoln Park to Lakeview to Uptown on Wednesday night, a police supervisor radioed information about the unfolding crime spree to their officers. She seemed amazed by the volume and audacity of what was happening.
“We gonna get them federal boys in here, they keep doin’ this stuff,” she said.