Flash mobs, which spread via social networking and texting, began about 7 years ago as impromptu, synchronized gatherings for song or dance in targeted public locations. They were good, clean fun. Flashmobs soon expanded to include mass pillow and snowball fights. They were still good, clean fun.

However, somewhere along the way, flash mobs morphed into something different from their early version. Outwardly, new flash mobs resembled the early version, because they're still spread by social networking, texting, impromptu mass gatherings. This is where the similarity ends.

Starting in 2010, a growing number of U.S. cities were experiencing increasing unruliness and violence related to flash mobs, which prompted a greater police response. While flash mob participants considered it all good fun, the innocent people they terrorized had different opinions.

Then in 2011, violent flash mobs in Philadelphia's Center City (downtown) and Chicago's downtown, north side and lakefront were hit by waves of rampaging flash mobs running, stealing, assaulting, and robbing innocent people and businesses. Philadelphia and Chicago responded by flooding the areas with a large police presence.

Some would say violent flash mobs are unique to big cities. They would be wrong. Ask police from East Side suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio. In recent years, Cleveland's once quiet, inner-ring suburbs have seen increased crime. 

In the summer of 2010, the family-oriented Coventry Street Arts Fair in Cleveland Heights was the scene of large numbers of youths. While not officially a flash mob, it had all the earmarks of one, especially the violence.  A large number of swirling fights erupted and Cleveland Heights Police had to call in mutual aid from other departments. Ultimately, police arrested nine individuals for felony aggravated riot, and the incident sent shockwaves through Cleveland Heights.

The Shaker Heights Fourth of July fireworks display was marred by fights, which prompted a heavy police response.

The next Cleveland Heights flash mob occurred in October at a shopping center. Police were called for a large unruly, mob rampaging through a Wal-Mart store. Police dispersed the mob only to have it form up again at an adjacent movie theater. A large number of fights broke out, resulting in another mutual-aid police response and arrests.

In December, fights broke out throughout the upscale Beachwood Place Mall, as participants rampaged through the mall, prompting Beachwood Police to call for mutual aid. Seven people were arrested. Beachwood Place Mall closed early.

In March of this year, a family oriented St. Patrick's Day parade in downtown Cleveland drew about 300,000 people. There had been no crowd problems in recent years. This year, large numbers of non-reveler gang-banger types descended en masse onto Cleveland's Public Square.

For three hours, police and sheriff's deputies broke up numerous large fights and made a large number of arrests before restoring order.

The next incident happened on June 26 at the Coventry Street Arts Festival in Cleveland Heights. Having learned from their 2010 experience, CHPD assigned 40 of its officers to the daytime fair. All went well, until an estimated 1,500 flash-mobers descended en masse onto Coventry Road. The vastly outnumbered CHPD officers were soon overwhelmed, as flash-mobbers began rampaging, running, fighting, screaming, and yelling.

CHPD called for mutual aid and ultimately arrested 15 participants for felony aggravated riot. The fair and Coventry Road businesses were forced to close early. The next scheduled Coventry Street Arts Fair was canceled. Amid controversy, Cleveland Heights enacted an underage curfew from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. for the Coventry and Cedar-Lee areas.

At the Shaker Heights fireworks display on July 4, for the second straight year, multiple fights broke out. A large police response to needed to restore order.

There's light at the end of the tunnel. Shortly after this summer's flash mobs in Cleveland Heights and Shaker Heights, police in another adjacent Cleveland suburb learned about a "big fight" planned for South Euclid city park. 

South Euclid Police shut down the park for the entire day of the "big fight" and instead hosted a multi-agency police K-9 training session. K-9 teams from all across greater Cleveland participated. And guess what? No one showed up for the "big fight." Nor did any South Euclid citizens complain about the park closing.

Now, that's what I call "community policing" at its best. Maybe next time SWAT should host a similar multi-agency training session.

Author

Robert O'Brien
Robert O'Brien

Robert O'Brien

A member of the TREXPO Advisory Board, Sgt. Robert "Bob" O'Brien Cleveland SWAT Ret. is the founder of the R.J. O'Brien Group Ltd., a law enforcement training and consulting service that advises and trains a number of local, state, and federal SWAT teams.

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A member of the TREXPO Advisory Board, Sgt. Robert "Bob" O'Brien Cleveland SWAT Ret. is the founder of the R.J. O'Brien Group Ltd., a law enforcement training and consulting service that advises and trains a number of local, state, and federal SWAT teams.

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