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Law enforcement tries to stay one step ahead of 'bash mobs'

"Bash mobs" are organized via social media.
"Bash mobs" are organized via social media.

An anticipated "bash mob" -- – a group of people who suddenly gather to vandalize, steal, and assault people  -- never materialized in Long Beach Friday, but authorities throughout southern California are on alert for more. There have been incidents in several area communities in recent days. The "bash mobs" are organized via social media, and that's where law enforcement is trying to track them down.

As protestors decried the George Zimmerman acquittal in Long Beach Friday, a dozen brown-shirted L.A. County Sheriff’s deputies stood by. A handful of Long Beach squad cars cruised by every couple of minutes looking for that one group about to run off on a vandalizing spree.

"It’s making us look bad," said protestor Aaron Rushing. "It makes it harder to get things like this organized because they do have prejudgments that something is going to jump off."

Rushing found out about the protest via social media. That’s also how bash mobs organize. And that presents a tough new challenge for the police. But Captain Mike Parker of the L-A Sheriff’s Department says law enforcement is getting tech savvy. The department has set up an Electronics Communication Triage Unit, aka the social media unit.

"Whatever social media site they are using, we look at it, we identify it and then we’ll go out to the site and do every effort to prevent it," said Parker.

The department assembled its social media team  last fall. Since then, Parker says it’s found chatter about plans for parties where drugs would be used, or kids threatening other kids. He says it’s a way for cops to prevent worse things from happening.

A number of cities have experienced bash mobs or mob thefts, especially around retail or business districts. Authorities arrested several people in Hollywood Tuesday, seventeen people in Victorville Wednesday, and several more who were smashing windows and throwing rocks and bottles in San Bernardino on Thursday.

While things were quiet in Long Beach Friday, the authorities will continue to patrol social media feeds and the streets. They point out that participating in a bash mob can lead to felony charges, including conspiracy.