Evanston police on high alert after summer flash mobs

Julianna Nunez

The words “flash mobs” often inspire images of spontaneous theater performances and people dancing in the streets. But flash mobs took on a more sinister image when groups of teenagers mobbed stores and stole items from Evanston convenience stores this summer.

The rash of criminal mischief has motivated the Evanston Police Department to adopt an “aggressive and proactive approach” to combatting the street robberies, according to an EPD news release earlier this month.

Three flash mob incidents occurred in two Evanston locations this summer. The 7-Eleven store at 847 Dodge Ave. was mobbed twice, once on July 15 and less than two days later on July 17. A third incident occurred at the Mobil Gas Station Food Mart at 1950 Green Bay Road on July 16, according to a news release from EPD Cmdr. Jay Parrott.

The flash mobs typically stole from displays of soft drinks and candy, according to the news release. Eventually, 14 juveniles were arrested on evidence extracted from the stores’ surveillance systems.

All of the arrested are Evanston residents, but Parrott could not confirm nor deny whether the suspects were students at Evanston Township High School due to the age of the suspects.

Sam Pettineo, director of safety at ETHS, said the school cannot address flash mob action because it does not occur on school property.

Cherie Hansen, president of the ETHS Parent Teacher Student Association, said the school maintains a good relationship with the Evanston Police Department. Although she said she was not certain of recent flash mob activity, she noted that ETHS students are allowed to send text messages to adults if they spot suspicious activity during school.

In light of the flash mob participants’ ages, some local teen programs have sought to increase efforts to combat violence in the community.

Youth Organizations Umbrella has dedicated itself to serving young adults and their families. Melody Rose, site coordinator, currently works with ETHS Monday through Friday throughout the school year and summer on programs designed specifically for high school students.

“That is the primary, at-risk demographic that we’re trying to target,” Rose said. “There is an academic component that focuses mainly on tutoring, but that is just a small piece of the program. The majority of it focuses on life skills development and promotes social skills that cause positive youth development.”

Y.O.U conducts programs with an anti-bullying message and encourages students to make responsible choices on their own, she said.

Although ETHS students have been told to be always on the lookout and to be unafraid of reporting suspicious activity, EPD has asked for the public’s cooperation in order to prevent future flash mob incidents.

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