More looters have been arrested during Hurricane Harvey since the storm reached Houston on Friday. Initially, there were fake reports spread online with the hashtags #HoustonLootCrew and #HarveyLootCrew, similar to those during past natural disasters and events, but there have been real cases since then. On Tuesday, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said they have arrested 14 looters since Sunday.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said that a curfew is now being enforced from midnight to 5 a.m.
14 Arrests Have Been Made Since Sunday, Police Say
Acevedo told ABC News Monday morning that they are working to help people who need to be rescued from the catastrophic floods caused by Harvey. Police will also protect the city from looters as the floodwater recedes.
“We’ve already arrested a handful of looters. We’ve made it real clear to our community we’re going to do whatever it takes to protect their homes and their businesses,” Acevedo told ABC News. “And when people come from the outside to Houston, Texas, know we’re going to be out in the city, we’re not going to rest as a police department or law enforcement community until people restore their lives.”
On Tuesday, Avecedo said in a press conference that 14 looters have been arrested since Sunday. He said a crew of people carrying guns were robbing people and were arrested. Three looters were also caught at a GameStop store. A photo of an Apple Store allegedly shot at by looters also surfaced on social media.
Joe Gamaldi, vice president with the Houston Police Officers Union, told the Houston Chronicle late Monday that police had to divert rescue efforts to businesses being looted. Once they arrived at the scene, police officers and fire fighters were shot at. Grimaldi called the incident “disgusting.” The Chronicle notes that further details of the incident are unknown.
The Washington Post reports that some took matters into their own hands. Staff member sat the Lancaster Hotel stayed behind to protect the building from looters.
Mike Lopez of KPRC2 Houston reported that Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said only one person was arrested for looting on Monday.
The District Attorney’s Office of nearby Montgomery County warned looters with a Facebook post that his office will always seek jail time in every looting case stemming from Hurricane Harvey.
Montgomery County DA Brett Ligon: Mandatory prison or jail time for those looting, stealing, or burglarizing during Harvey evacuation and recovery efforts.
DA Ligon announced today that his office will seek prison or jail time in each and every forthcoming case where the defendant stands charged with theft (looting), burglary, robbery, or any similar crime committed during Hurricane Harvey. Ligon stated “leniency and probation will be off the table for these offenses committed during this time.”
Ligon further stated “law enforcement and first responder efforts have been tremendous in our County these last few days and they must remain focused.” “We stand behind all our law enforcment agencies and will support their decisions to shut down and immediately arrest suspected criminals during this difficult time for our community.”
State law also allows for enhanced punishment ranges for certain offenses committed during a declared natural disaster event.
Surveillance footage of real looking has surfaced. One Twitter user also posted a photo of a T-Mobile store that was broken into.
Fake Reports of Looting Spread Before the Real Reports
Despite real reports of looting, fake reports spread on Twitter after the hurricane struck. For example, Breaking911 tweeted what it claimed was a video from Houston showing “Widespread looting reported in Houston as police are trying to save lives.” The tweet was retweeted over 1,400 times. The hashtags #HarveyLootCrew and #HoustonLootCrew also gained traction.
Despite the attempts to get #HoustonLootCrew and #HarveyLootCrew to trend nationally, it is #HoustonStrong that has remained on Twitter to show the strength and resiliency of the city’s residents.
This is not the first time the “Loot Crew” hashtags have been used to spread false reports. In April 2015, Motherboard reported that #BaltimoreLootCrew was used after the Baltimore riots following Freddie Gray‘s death. One example of a fake #BAltimoreLootCrew post showed a man stealing a UPS truck.
Buzzfeed discovered that many of the #BaltimoreLootCrew posts used old photos. The site noted that there was also a “#FergusonLootCrew.”
In 2012, The Observer pointed out that there was also a “#SandyLootCrew” after Hurricane Sandy hit New Jersey. At the time, a group called “Gay N**ger Association of America” posted tweets with #SandyLootCrew, spreading false photos of African Americans looting. These tweets were picked up by The Daily Mail, Drudge Report and Infowars. There were real reports of looting during Sandy, but many of the #SAndyLootCrew posts were misleading.