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A smash and grab is a particular style of theft. Unlike traditional burglary, which relies primarily on stealth, a smash and grab relies on speed. A typical smash and grab theft would involve breaking a display window and running off with as much as could be carried before anyone could respond. The crime bears a strong resemblance to vandalism, with expensive property damage resulting from each attack.
Often, this is a crime of opportunity and impulse, requiring very little in terms of skill or planning. A simple heavy object such as a brick or large rock will often suffice to break in, with the thief simply taking as much as can be carried away quickly. Many security systems are designed to prevent traditional burglary and are a poor defense against thieves who ignore alarms.
Thieves selecting a target for a smash and grab will usually try to minimize the chances of being caught. Interior shopping areas such as malls make poor targets because of difficult escape routes and too many witnesses being present. Instead, shops on the street, especially those that have poor lighting and infrequent traffic, make easier victims.
Vehicles are often incorporated in smash and grab theft, not only for the getaway, but also to break in. In a technique known as ram raiding, the thieves crash the vehicle into a door or window to break in. Cars and trucks have also been used with chains and grapples to pull bars from windows and allow access. Automated teller machines also have been raided using this style of a smash and grab.
The value of the stolen goods is often less than the property damage done during these raids. In some cases where the items in the window are not especially valuable, vandalism might have been the original goal, with the theft merely an afterthought. Replacement of display windows is usually the greatest expense following this type of theft.
Vendors have a number of options to deter snatch and grab raids, each with its own advantages and limitations. Bars, sliding grilles, bollards or other physical obstacles make theft less likely, but the window becomes less useful as an advertising space. Similarly, the vendor might choose to display less valuable merchandise, but again, the window becomes less effective at enticing potential customers. Less-obvious measures, such as reinforced glass, keep the display attractive but are expensive and, with no obvious measures visible, provide no deterrent to smash and grab attacks.
Although a smash-and-grab burglary may look like a crime of opportunity, sometimes it's part of a more elaborate scheme. I've seen surveillance footage of burglars driving a truck through a store's window and then head straight for the most valuable merchandise, a safe or an ATM. They don't wait around for the police to investigate the tripped alarm. It takes some planning and skill to pull off some smash-and-grab thefts.
My wife was a victim of a smash-and-grab car thief a few years ago. She was only in the store for a few minutes when a customer ran in and shouted "Call 911!". My wife ran out to her car and found the front passenger side smashed out and her purse missing. She just took her checkbook into the store. The police got a good description of the thief from the witnesses, but he's never been caught.
If you think about it, a person could smash out a window and reach through the broken glass in only a few seconds. He could be lost in a crowd a minute later. People need to get in the habit of hiding their valuables or groceries in a trunk, not putting them in plain sight on the passenger seat. These smash-and-grab thieves walk around looking for an easy target.
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