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Why They Did It: Understanding the hundreds of looters after Ferguson

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FERGUSON, MO (KTVI) - For the past five weeks, FOX 2 has worked with St. Louis County police to show surveillance footage of hundreds of criminals looting businesses in the Ferguson aftermath.

The goal is to identify these looters, but these videos also provide a unique opportunity for law enforcement and criminologists to take a closer look at their behavior.

On August 10th, the day after Michael Brown was shot; several people broke through the security gate outside prime sole shoe store on West Florissant.  Throughout the 14-minute surveillance video, people casually walk in, grab Jordans, then other Nikes, and walk out. It's calm and organized.

Eighty-seven people took advantage of this business that night.

Dr. Remy Cross is a Webster University Criminology professor, who specializes in illegal group behaviors.

He says for the most part, these looters weren't protesters, but opportunists: "These weren't people who seem to have a political agenda. They're not shouting slogans as they do these things, they're not carrying signs. They're coming in, they're taking what they want, and they're getting out."

The opportunity was there, because police were busy.  St. Louis County Police Officer Shawn McGuire explains, "They took advantage of the Ferguson situation. They took advantage of police officers responding to very violent calls that night, with shootings, and fires being set."

Once businesses were broken into, Cross says word spread through social media, so more opportunists join in.  "Anytime there's sort of a breakdown in public order, you do see these types of behaviors," he says.

But within that break down of order, a new order forms and rises above the lawlessness.  The looters help each other, and don't steal from each other, as they steal from the business.  Cross explains, "It's sort of a risk calculation. There's a sense that I can get something for free, hands down, no risk, or I can start an altercation with somebody."

The relative calm comes from the confidence they won't get caught. Many were even unafraid to show their faces to surveillance cameras.  But now, St. Louis County police are trying their best to charge every single looter.  So far, they've released 5 videos with about 500 suspects. There are more videos to come, with 150 more looters to identify.

So far, 10 looters have been identified from these videos, and are now wanted for questioning.  Police are hoping those 10 will lead to more arrests.  If you can identify any of these looters, contact St. Louis County police.​