[FoRK] Why do people loot when the city is dying?

kelley at inkworkswell.com kelley
Wed Aug 31 11:38:46 PDT 2005

At 01:24 PM 8/31/2005, Corinna wrote:
>... including the cops...
>  "The police got all the best stuff. They're crookeder than us," one man
>said. Most officers, though, simply stood by powerless against the tide of
>law breakers.
>One veteran officer said, "It's like this everywhere in the city. This tiny
>number of cops can't do anything about this. It's wide open."
>Some groups, the reporters wrote, "organized themselves into assembly lines
>to more efficiently cart off goods. Inside the store, one woman was stocking
>up on make-up. She said she took comfort in watching police load up their
>own carts. 'It must be legal,' she said. 'The police are here taking stuff,

I thought this was interesting:

This is interesting:

Looting is perhaps the most expected behavior subsequent to a disaster and
probably the most misreported post disaster event. Surveys indicate
(Quarantelli) that 70-90 percent of people in a disaster will hear
unsubstantiated stories about looting. After the Oakland Hills fire, one TV
station reported looting, another reported on the lack of looting. I was
able to inspect one burnt out neighborhood and found that there wasn't much
to take. The relatively few instances of looting that does occur involve
articles of little value and are usually committed by non-local security
forces. Similar to price gouging, the media shares much of the blame for
this misinformation. According to Fischer, national and network reporters
construct news stories that conform to their perception of what normally
occurs after a disaster instead of researching facts. Keep in mind that
much of news reporting is entertainment focused. If it is reported by and
media and believed by the public, local leaders must take steps to respond
to it, real or perceived, lending credibility to the assumption that
looting is pervasive. The incidence of looting (and other post disaster
crime) is often misrepresented by those who have something to sell or a
philosophical reason for you to believe in the impending breakdown of the
social order. One survivalist web site claims that 'of the hundreds of
victims that I have dealt with [after Hugo], most had lost something to
looters. During Hurricane Andrew, looting was common place and accepted as
a way of life. One victim from an upper class neighborhood told me "I was
shunned by my neighbors because I rejected an offer to cruise for goods."
Substantiated cases of looting after Hurricane Georges: 0. Substantiated
cases of looting after Hurricane Andrew: probably 0.

One of our duties as continuity planners is to educate and manage the
expectations of the 'masses.' Misinformation has caused people to drown in
a storm surge trying to protect their property from potential looting. It
has caused innocent victims and family members to be killed or injured by
firearms. Important sociological and victimization theories do not change ?
persons are still more likely to be injured by an intimate partner (48%),
family member (32%), than by a stranger (20%). Next time we have the
opportunity to advise the public or coworkers, ensure it is from a position
of knowledge and not mythology.

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+1 (727) 942-9255 

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