NYPD actively searching for looters who vandalized New York City stores

NEW YORK (WABC) -- The NYPD Intelligence Bureau is collecting license plate numbers from vehicles that carried vandals, looters and thieves around Manhattan in the last two days, a police official told ABC News.

Some of those already being tracked down were seen outside storefronts with sledgehammers, crowbars and power tools in brazen shows of planning and organization as they used the ongoing protests as cover for their crimes.

In New York, midtown Manhattan was pocked with battered storefronts after Monday's protests. Macy's flagship store was among those hit when crowds of people smashed windows and looted stores as they swept through the area. A police sergeant was hospitalized after being hit by a car in the Bronx, where people walked Tuesday between ransacked buildings and a burned-out car on the Grand Concourse.

Police made nearly 700 arrests and Mayor Bill de Blasio extended an 8 p.m. curfew all week.

One of the numerous police reports from eyewitnesses came from Carla Murphy, who lives in Chelsea.

"Cars would drive up, let off the looters, unload power tools and suitcases and then the cars would drive away," she told ABC News. "Then the cars would come back pick them up and then drive off to the next spot. They seemed to know exactly where they were going. Some of the people were local but there were a lot of out-of-towners."

Murphy said she saw license plates from out of state, including New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and drivers had not even tried to hide their tags.

By the time Murphy said she got through to 911, dispatchers said they would send police but they were swamped. They didn't respond until 1 a.m.

Officials acknowledged that they were overwhelmed as the looting broke out Monday night.

But by Tuesday night, police had already put out orders to use the extraordinary technological arsenal available to the NYPD to hunt down those who turned protests into opportunities for looting.

Detectives in New York City have access to a wide network of city-owned license-plate readers and security cameras on top of thousands of private-sector surveillance systems that are looped in to the NYPD architecture.

Investigators are also collecting surveillance images from as many vandalized and looted stores as possible as they try to identify the suspects.

The culprits are believed to be a combination of outside agitators, career criminals and gang members. Police said many of the perpetrators seemed to display a talent for staying a step ahead of cops with elaborate scouting and signaling system built on text messages, social media apps and lookouts.

(ABC News and The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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