(CNN) — A “flash mob” believed to have been organized on the Internet robbed a Maryland convenience store in less than a minute, police said Tuesday, and now authorities are using the same tool to identify participants in the crime.
Surveillance video shows a couple of teens walking into the Germantown 7-Eleven store Saturday at 1:47 a.m. Then, in a matter of seconds, dozens more young people entered and grabbed items from store shelves and coolers. Police said the teens left the store together, without paying for anything.
“At least 28 different individuals” have been confirmed on the video, Capt. Paul Starks told CNN Tuesday.
Montgomery County Police posted the video on YouTube.com and asked for help from the public in identifying the perpetrators.
“We’re getting a lot of response from sources in the community who have seen the video, who are concerned, and are calling police with tips,” Starks said.
Several suspects have already been identified, but police have made no arrests and hope the public can help them locate the individuals on the tape.
Although investigators have said they ‘”can’t confirm how this (robbery) was organized,” Starks does believe the Internet was involved.
While working to identify and find the group of teens, Starks said Montgomery County has been “coordinating with the state Attorney General’s office and discussing what charges will be appropriate” when arrests are made.
Flash mobs — usually announced online in social networking sites, or by e-mails or text messages — were once benign and entertaining, but recent gatherings by groups of teenagers have evolved into more sinister actions.
Earlier this month, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter signed an order moving curfews to 9 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays for people younger than 18 in Center City, the heart of Philadelphia’s downtown, and in University City, home to the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University.
Nutter announced the earlier curfew following a string of mob attacks by young people alerted to gatherings via e-mail and social media.
Parents and minors face hefty fines if caught violating the new rules.
Violent “flash mob” attacks have also been reported recently in other cities across the country, leading to crackdowns on curfew enforcement and stepped-up police patrols.
Extra state troopers were ordered in after what was described as a “mob beating” took place at the Wisconsin State Fair.
Attacks in Cleveland, Chicago and Washington, D.C. have all led to the arrests of dozens of teens and resulted in extra police patrols in and around these cities.
Montgomery County Police said Saturday’s “flash mob” theft was the first such incident in their jurisdiction, but Starks admits he is concerned about the growing trend.
“I assure you we’re taking this crime very seriously,” Starks said.
In England, where riots erupted earlier this month, authorities say social networking sites and mobile messaging services were used as tools to organize looting and violence.
In the aftermath of the riots, Cheshire Police Assistant Chief Constable Phil Thompson cited “the way in which technology was used to spread incitement and bring people together to commit acts of criminality” as a factor.
And last week, Prime Minister David Cameron told Parliament that “when people are using social media for violence, we need to stop them.”
The government was working with the police and intelligence services, he said, “to look at whether it would be right to stop people communicating via these websites and services when we know they are plotting violence, disorder and criminality.”
Meanwhile, police in northwest England said Tuesday that two men have been jailed for four years each for inciting disorder via social networking sites. The two had urged activists to cause trouble in the towns of Warrington and Northwich, but neither posting resulted in riots, police said.
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