The New York Criminal Law Blog

Hurricane Sandy is Over; Prepare for the Looters

We were all pretty sure this was going to happen, right? After all, it happened after Hurricane Irene. It happened to an even larger extent after Hurricane Katrina. Even in times of disaster and tragedy, there will always be some idiots that choose to take advantage of the situation for profit.

Even before the storm made landfall, people were tweeting about their plans to loot.

Here's one example:

Dozens of others, many of which have since been taken down, are available here.

Surely, many of these folks were attempting to be funny. Then again, surely many more were not. Scattered tweets about possible looting were broadcast during the storm and since the water levels have receded, there have been verified reports of looters in Brooklyn and Coney Island.

The Huffington Post reports that a pharmacy on Mermaid Avenue was raided for most of its prescription medication. According to the Wall Street Journal, many precincts that were evacuated had mobile command centers established for the purpose of processing the arrests of looting suspects. The paper confirmed thirteen arrests, mostly in Brooklyn and Queens.

The officers didn't stop all of the looting, however. According to some store owners on Mermaid Avenue, officers were overwhelmed by the number of looters and initially used their limited resources to warn individuals to steer clear of the area due to the large numbers of looters. By late afternoon, reinforcements had arrived. For many store owners, it was too late.

Please Loot! I Love to Shoot!

The charges that looters and rioters could face will vary based on the number of individuals involved in the looting and the value of the heist. On rioting charges alone, there are two variations:

  • Second Degree (Misdemeanor) - "Tumultuous and violent" conduct that creates a "grave risk of causing public alarm," committed in concert with four or more other persons.
  • First Degree (Felony) - "Tumultuous and violent" conduct that creates a "grave risk of causing public alarm," committed in concert with ten or more other persons, and a bystander suffers physical injury or substantial property damage occurs.

Many of the news reports indicate that the raids on stores were not individuals cleaning the shelves. Instead, there were groups of people stuffing merchandise into trash bags before fleeing. A rioting charge might be a nice addition or alternative for charging the looters.

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