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Police in a small San Francisco Bay Area community were about to help authorities in neighboring Oakland keep the peace during a protest when a more pressing crisis hit home: groups of thieves were pillaging malls, setting fire to a Walmart and storming a car dealership.

By the time San Leandro officers arrived at the Dodge dealership, dozens of cars were gone and thieves were peeling out of the lot in $100,000 Challenger Hellcat muscle cars. Nearly 75 vehicles were stolen Sunday, including models driven through glass showroom doors to escape.

“It was very strategic,” Sgt. Ray Kelly of the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office told the Associated Press about the auto thefts and other recent heists.

The brazen heist, carried out by well-coordinated criminals, was one of many thefts nationwide the last week at big box electronics stores, jewelry shops and luxury designers. Many of the smash-and-grab thefts have happened during or following protests over the death of George Floyd.

Caravans of burglars have capitalized on chaos, communicating with each other via messaging apps during heists and using both the protests and other tactics to throw police off their trail. While opportunists have sometimes joined the frenzy, police and experts say there is a sophistication that suggests a level of planning that goes beyond spontaneous acts.

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