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By James Carlini

Last weekend, Chicago’s Magnificent Mile experienced teen-age flash mobs (organized looting) creating disturbances and mayhem among people there who were trying to enjoy the downtown shopping district.

This has been going on for several years, but the Chicago media has filtered it out of their stories until recently.  They should be asked, why?

In a May 18 file photo, Chicago police officers are a presence along Michigan Ave. in Chicago. Can police be effective in a ‘flash mob’ age? Richard A. Chapman/Chicago Sun-Times/AP/File

I wrote about this back in 2010, but some even denied it was happening then.  The Chicago police didn’t deny it and in fact, thanked me for shedding some light on it.  Here was the original article that later got picked up by the Huffington Post:


Well, now the problem has gotten worse and it is too big to sweep under the Chicago media’s rug.  It needs to be addressed by the Mayor as well as the City Council.


There are many solutions that are being touted by the police and politicians, but some of them are locked in to last century’s solutions.

  • Saturate the area with police.  This would work well for awhile but Chicago is short of police and some politicians are trying to cover that fact up.  So this is not a viable solution.
  • Make the North Michigan Avenue Merchants Association hire off-duty police in uniform at $30 an hour.  Some police say this is too cheap, they want more money as well as full coverage of all insurances.
  • Make the North Michigan Avenue Merchants Association pay for more police at $30- $60 an hour.  Some people say this is extortion and ask why aren’t the other high-crime areas asked to pay for more police resources that they require and consume?
  • Some want this to somehow “just go away” because it is tarnishing Rahm Emanuel’s image and his claim that crime has been reduced.  Letting this try to disappear won’t work this time.

All of these solutions will not work for various reasons and it points out the need to understand the underlying technology that is being used to initiate it.  The technology also needs to be utilized to stop it.


Smartphones and cell phones are used in setting up flash mob mayhem.  Those devices along with Twitter and other social media tools initiate the mob action.

Utilizing the same technology that “creates” the flash mobs, the police can capture the activists and automatically calculate where they are as far as the “scale of offenses” (see below Chart 1).

The first time a flash mob occurs, the cell tower that covers that specific area should take a total inventory of all the “active” phones that are on the cell tower.  Taking a “snapshot” of the active phones will start a data base of potential participants.

A “warning” is generated to all the phones and those numbers are put into a data base.  The police might arrest some people on the ground that they can capture, but the majority of flash mob members will probably run free.  Any other information gotten off of Twitter and Facebook can also tie in with the information gathered at the cell phone Tower.

The second time a flash mob occurs, the cell tower covering that specific area takes inventory again of all the “active” cell phones.  The numbers are cross-checked with the first offense and any that are found out to be the same, get pushed to the second offense category where the phone number is turned off.  All names associated with the cell phones (or who are arrested) are put into a data base.

To re-activate the phone, the user must pay a fee. ($200 or so).  If it is a cell phone gotten “free” from a government program, the recipient is banned from participating in that program for five years.

The third time the process takes the same approach and if a phone number or person is found to be active a third time, the phone is shut off permanently and anyone associated with a third incident is given a misdemeanor and community service.

The fourth time, any activity would constitute a felony conviction and the penalties would reflect that level of crime.  So you have an action and response template for a “wilding” incident.
Phone # and name are collected in   data bases
Is warned that they are part of suspicious activity
(Warning   only)
Phone # is turned off
Must pay fine to get phone turned back on.
(Fine, no jail)
Phone # is turned off permanently
Mandatory   misdemeanor arrest and sentence – cleaning up the streets
FOURTH OFFENSE (anything after misdemeanor)
Any activity arising from flash mob   participation – automatic felony
Jail Time and/or cleaning up the streets

This approach has to be refined, but it is more applicable than the solutions that have been offered so far.  Using the latest technology to police the latest technology is a lot more cost-effective than pursuing the old solutions of the past that require huge amounts of manpower.

(NOTE:  Carlini was the Consultant to the Mayor’s Office 1992-1995 on the overall Planning and Design of the Chicago 911 Center as well as the author of the white paper, Intelligent Infrastructure: Securing Regional Sustainability, written for the US Department of Homeland Security 2009)

CARLINI-ISM :  As technology is used in committing new crimes, it needs to be used to capture that same criminal element.

Follow daily Carlini-isms at www.TWITTER.com/JAMESCARLINI

Copyright 2013 – James Carlini



  1. Never really thought about this type of cell phone crime. Are there groups that avoid the police for other reasons like home or commercial burglary and for avoiding speeding tickets??

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