Police say investigators have identified suspects in three mass "grab-and-run" thefts on Black Friday at Best Buy stores in Maplewood, Burnsville and Blaine, and described the crime spree as a "coordinated effort."
Maplewood police Lt. Joe Steiner, joined by Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension Superintendent Drew Evans, said officials believe the three incidents were linked. Approximately $7,000 in merchandise was stolen from the Maplewood location, including large flat-screen televisions, tablets and hoverboards. Evans said similar amounts were stolen from the other two stores.
"Through our investigation we've learned that the group responsible for the coordinated thefts in Maplewood is also responsible for the thefts just prior to our incident at the Best Buy in Blaine, Minnesota," Steiner said. "The same group, we've learned, is also responsible for mass theft in Burnsville at their Best Buy just after ours."
No arrests have been made, but Steiner said police have identified "multiple" suspects who live in the Twin Cities. He declined to share a precise number. Police are coordinating efforts and preparing felony theft cases for prosecutors to review next week, Steiner said.
Steiner said Best Buy has provided high-definition video surveillance and still images of the suspects, which will be released to the public in coming days. Police have also received multiple tips.
Evans said merchandise stolen in these types of incidents typically ends up being sold online, but he and Steiner declined to say if any of the items stolen on Black Friday have surfaced.
According to Maplewood police, the Blaine store was hit first on Black Friday. So far, Blaine and Burnsville police have not released new details.
About a dozen shoplifters looted the Maplewood Best Buy store shortly after 8 p.m. According to Maplewood police, the suspects walked in, grabbed high-value merchandise including large televisions and walked out. No one was injured.
Shortly after, a group of 20 to 30 people swarmed a Burnsville Best Buy store and stole items.
"This type of criminal behavior is unacceptable," Steiner said. "We will hold offenders accountable. We will make arrests and we will submit cases for charging consideration."
Evans said the BCA is coordinating closely with local law enforcement. While larceny is declining in the state, he said, these types of organized thefts are on the rise.
"When these type of large-scale thefts occur, the costs are passed along to all consumers," Evans said. "We can't tolerate this type of behavior."
The Twin Cities thefts follow several other mass robberies recently reported in the United States, including some on Black Friday.
Best Buy is lobbying for a federal law that would make the online reselling of stolen goods more difficult. Earlier last week during a regular earnings announcement, CEO Corie Barry said the retailer is seeing more incidents of organized retail crime, which has started to negatively affect the company's bottom line. Best Buy said in some instances it is hiring security and locking up some products.
This month, the company is launching a new capability to use QR codes for high-velocity products that are locked up, particularly in areas where there have been more thefts. Instead of waiting for a store employee to unlock the product, the customer will be able to scan the QR code and then go to checkout to pay and pick up the item.
"Our priority has always been and will remain the safety of our people, whether that's the pandemic, whether that is unruly customers, whether that is outright theft, which is a great deal of what we're seeing right now," Barry said on a call with analysts.
Other retailers, including Target, acknowledge organized thefts are on their radar.
"The safety of our guests and team members is Target's top priority, and our security teams in every store are trained to maintain a safe shopping environment and protect against theft," Target spokesman Brian Harper-Tibaldo said in a statement. "We invest time and resources in our store leaders and security team members so they can protect themselves and de-escalate potential safety issues. We also work with law enforcement on an ongoing basis to address organized retail crime."