Los Angeles County Sheriff's Sgt. Dennis Clark has spent years reviewing videos of store crimes. But nothing prepared him for the video shot on Christmas Day at a Paramount clothing shop.
The surveillance tape shows a woman and two small boys walking into the store. As the woman distracts the clerk, the children grab money out of an unlocked cashier's drawer. The boys are also seen testing the store's antitheft alarm.
"This is the first for me," Clark said. "I've heard of it, but I've never seen it captured on video and with the children this young.
"It was organized chaos and the chaos was their distraction technique," he said.
The video shows the woman chasing after the boys and speaking to them in a foreign language.
"It's obviously an act . . . the whole thing is choreographed and practiced," Clark said. "The kids are sophisticated enough to where they remove a bra from one of the displays and take it past the door sensors to see if there's a sensor hidden in it."
Investigators are trying to identify the woman, who appears to be Eastern European. Officials also want to determine if a man who appeared to be on the lookout near the store's entrance was an accomplice in the theft.
"He's definitely a person of interest," Clark said.
Investigators said the thieves made off with $1,000 to $1,200 and a few small display items.
The theft was reported Christmas Day at the Fashion Q clothing store in the 14500 block of Lakewood Avenue, authorities said.
The footage shows the two boys, one estimated to be 6 to 8 years old and the other 8 to 11 years old, walking into the store about 4 p.m. Fifteen seconds later, the woman enters the store and begins to talk to a man who is looking at boots.
For a minute the family is out of camera view, but then the woman is seen at the front of the register. She hands a clothing item to the cashier, who leaves the cash register to rehang the item.
Then, Clark said, the two boys make their way to the drawer and take the money out.
Authorities say the woman and anyone confirmed to be involved will face multiple theft charges as well as child endangerment.
"The mother is definitely the ringleader here," Clark said. "She's the enabler and the teacher."
Anyone with information related to this case is asked to call the Sheriff's Department's Lakewood Station at (562) 623-3500.