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'Take the riot to Hollywood' tweet fueled crime wave, LAPD says

Los Angles Police Department officials said a crime outbreak that struck Hollywood on Tuesday night was organized by social media.

Officials said they've seen several messages on Twitter and Facebook urging people to gather there.

"Take the riot to Hollywood," one expletive-laden message on Twitter said. "Hollywood. 7:30."

That invitation for trouble and others like it, police believe, were the seeds of a bizarre, chaotic night in the city's entertainment center that caught the LAPD off guard and left city officials scrambling to assure tourists and revelers, once again, that Hollywood is a safe place to be.

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A group of 40 to 50 people, mostly teenagers, heeded the social media calls and went on what police described as a rolling crime wave.

LAPD Cmdr. Andy Smith said it appeared the group thought Hollywood would be an easy target because police were focused on patrolling the Crenshaw District, which had been the scene of renegade violence during protests over the George Zimmerman verdict in Florida on Monday evening. As the problems began in Hollywood, the department was also dealing with protesters marching through downtown.

"What we're thinking is these youngsters took advantage of our redeployment of officers down to the Crenshaw District last night and decided that this would be a good night to come up to Hollywood and act a little crazy," Smith said.

So-called "flash mob" crime rampages organized through social media have been a problem in other cities, including Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington. In April, 28 Chicago youths were arrested on suspicion of attacking pedestrians along the city's famed Magnificent Mile. Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed legislation in May enacting stiffer penalties for people who text or use social media to organize mob attacks.

Until now, flash mob crime incidents have not been a major problem in Los Angeles, LAPD officials said.

The problems began shortly after 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, when 911 dispatchers started receiving reports of problems on Hollywood Boulevard near Vine Street — a stretch full of restaurants, clubs and shops. A group of a few dozen young people, callers said, was running in and out of traffic, knocking people over on the sidewalks and snatching their belongings. Some stole food and souvenirs from stores as they went.

The fast-moving group continued east along the boulevard, and the calls for help kept coming. Responding officers were flummoxed by the mob, which splintered and scattered when confronted, only to come back together and then divide up again. Police officials hurriedly sent more than 100 officers from elsewhere in the city to Hollywood.

A strange game of cat and mouse ensued for the next few hours as police searched for suspects over a large area stretching from Highland to Western Avenue.

In the end, 12 people — 11 juveniles and one 18-year-old man — were arrested on suspicion of robbery. All of those arrested lived in South L.A. neighborhoods, police said.

Police sources said many of those involved in the mob appeared to have arrived in Hollywood on the subway.

On Wednesday, detectives began the arduous process of collecting and combing through footage from the area's ubiquitous security cameras in an effort to identify others in the group who escaped.

Investigators were looking into the possibility that the group included people who participated in the Crenshaw violence and an earlier episode in Hollywood on Sunday night.

The upheaval took place against the backdrop of several days of protests against the acquittal of Zimmerman, a former neighborhood-watch volunteer who fatally shot unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida.

Police sources who requested anonymity because of the ongoing investigation said they had uncovered Twitter messages from days before the Zimmerman verdict, in which people were discussing the idea of going to Hollywood to cause trouble. The acquittal, however, seems to have given the group a cause celebre and motivated more people to join.

"They're using Trayvon as an excuse," one police official said. "They were saying, 'Let's go mess up Hollywood for Trayvon.' "

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