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Crowds swarm retailers, stealing merchandise on Black Friday

By Sommer Brokaw & Jake Thomas

Nov. 27 (UPI) -- Thieves in California and Minnesota continued to target retailers with swarms of masked people making off with merchandise during the holiday weekend, police said Saturday.

Police arrested four individuals suspected of involvement in a "flash mob" theft of at least $400 worth of goods at a Home Depot store in Lakewood, Calif., City News Service reported.

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Shortly before 8 p.m. on Friday, around eight males entered the store and stole various sledgehammers, crowbars and hammers, Deputy Los Angeles County Sheriff Miguel Meza said. A store associate said the group threatened one customer who attempted to confront them.

Police later received a call regarding several vehicles driving with no license plates, Sgt. Jeff Newman of the Beverly Hills Police Department told the news service. Police stopped one car and took the four suspects into custody.

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"We're currently working with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department to see if there is a link to the Lakewood Home Depot incident or any other crimes that have been committed," Newman said.

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Cities throughout California and elsewhere have seen similar crimes marked by an organized group of people suddenly descending on a store, stealing items and making getaways in cars parked outside.

A group of thieves on Monday targeted Bottega Veneta, an upscale West Hollywood clothing store, KABC-TV reported.

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On Saturday, security guard Kevin Nishita died from a gunshot wound he sustained while protecting a KRON-TV television crew that was covering a story of an organized theft in Oakland, Calif., the station said.

The shooting occurred Wednesday while the crew was reporting on a robbery that involved 12 masked thieves raiding a clothing store. Authorities are offering a $32,500 reward for information that leads to an arrest.

Meanwhile, a group of up to 30 people swarmed through a Best Buy store in Minnesota on Black Friday, stealing electronics before police arrived, authorities said.

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The store in Burnsville, Minn., about 20 miles south of downtown Minneapolis, was robbed shortly after 8 p.m., the Burnsville Police Department told WCCO-TV.

Burnsville police Capt. Don Stenger said no weapons were seen and no injuries were reported, the Star Tribune reported.

"We don't know exactly what was taken or the dollar value," Stenger added.

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Authorities also said a smaller group of thieves also broke into another Best Buy in the St. Paul, Minn., suburb of Maplewood.

No arrests had been made as of Saturday morning.

Earlier this week in California, Los Angeles police arrested three people Monday after a group of at least 20 broke into a Nordstrom department store at The Grove shopping center. Surveillance footage from the scene showed the thieves used a sledgehammer to break a window and enter the store.

Police in Walnut Creek, Calif., arrested three people a day earlier after a group of about 80 broke into and ransacked another Nordstrom store.

Best Buy CEO Corie Barry said this week that increasingly brazen and violent thefts are affecting company profits and making it harder to retain employees.

Organized thieves are wielding weapons such as a guns or crowbars in increasingly frequent attacks, she told CNBC.

"These are traumatic experiences, and they are happening more and more across the country," Barry said.

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