Across Florida, we just experienced a major natural disaster with the arrival of Hurricane Irma. Throughout the state, millions of people were ordered or chose to evacuate further inland or out-of-state. When a major natural disaster hits, and people are ordered to leave their homes and businesses, there is often a risk of looting in the areas that are abandoned. Unfortunately, this is all-too-common because looters know that no one is home to protect the property, and oftentimes, electricity is out, meaning any security systems or monitoring devices are disabled.
The possibility of looting can put anyone on edge when tensions are already high. It’s important to understand what looting is, how it can be punished, and how potential victims can legally protect themselves.
What is looting?
Though looting is usually differentiated from regular burglary due to the timing of the crime happening amid a disaster, looters can face charges that are equal to the crimes they commit had there not been a major event happening. Looting is a form of stealing, and the looter can be charged with a range of crimes from petty theft or burglary, to larceny or grand theft, or any similar crime associated with burglary during a natural disaster.
Usually looting is associated with the stealing of items from homes or businesses that have been abandoned for safety reasons, such as in the event of a natural disaster. Looters typically steal items that they can take with them for survival or resale. These items can range anywhere from cigarettes and snacks to large electronics, clothes and shoes, or even utility poles, as reported in Jacksonville recently when two men were arrested by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office for strapping a power pole to the top of their vehicle.
South Florida During and After Irma
In South Florida, we also heard several reports of looters during and after Hurricane Irma. Absent property and business owners returned to find that their homes and offices were damaged or destroyed by people who stole from them during or immediately after the storm. The Sun Sentinel reported that 20 were arrested and accused of looting as the weather began to turn bad even before the storm was in full force over the area. In Miami-Dade, it was reported that over 50 suspected looters were arrested associated with crimes committed during and after the storm. 26 of those suspected looters were accused of breaking into the same Walmart on the north side of the county.
Protection Against Looting
It’s important that home and business owners use caution when dealing with looters. The best practice is to head all official warnings and evacuate if you must. If you stay in a disaster zone, officials will often institute curfews to ensure that people stay off the streets at night when looting is more common. If you violate curfew, you can get in trouble with law enforcement, so it is important that you pay attention to the rules that are set in place following a disaster.
If you choose to stay and protect your property and face potential looters, you may be responsible for your actions if you choose to use a weapon. Certain situations may call for use of force in self-defense, but make sure that you are exercising good judgement if you feel that someone is violating your home and safety.
If you are arrested and accused of a crime, it’s vitally important that you contact an experienced criminal defense attorney. Your attorney will be able to help you navigate the criminal justice system with regards to the charges against you.
[email protected], C. (n.d.). Burglars use Irma as an excuse to loot stores, destroy offices. Laptops, shoes popular. Retrieved September 14, 2017, from http://www.miamiherald.com/news/weather/hurricane/article172979931.html
Pesantes, E. (2017, September 12). As Hurricane Irma moved in, so did brazen looters in Broward. Retrieved September 14, 2017, from http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/weather/hurricane/fl-sb-looters-in-broward-20170911-story.html
What are the laws against looting? (n.d.). Retrieved September 14, 2017, from https://www.hg.org/article.asp?id=31613
Tattooed, shirtless looters arrested for stealing power pole as police turn up the heat. (n.d.). Retrieved September 14, 2017, from http://www.foxnews.com/us/2017/09/14/2-florida-men-accused-stealing-utility-pole-in-hurricane-irmas-wake.html