Violent robberies up 40 percent in California Bay Area

Citizens call for crack down on armed holdups

But, block for block, there is no denser concentration of robberies than in San Francisco's Tenderloin. The area of halfway houses and residence hotels is plagued with drug dealing, prostitution and drunkenness - and police say robberies go hand in hand.

The Tenderloin has six of San Francisco's 15 worst intersections for robbery and typically experiences about a robbery a day.

People involved in the drug scene are often both the perpetrators and victims of robberies there, police say. But others get hit as well, including residents from Southeast Asia and Central American whose numbers have recently increased in the neighborhood. Some mornings, police say, robbers set up at bus stops along Hyde Street to hit commuters.

In Oakland, the rough neighborhoods around the Eastmont Mall and the Fruitvale district are favored hunting grounds. In the Fruitvale area, police say day laborers are major targets of robbers looking for cash.

But other hot spots are transit or shopping hubs, where crowds mingle and, police say, robbers have lots of potential targets and getaway options.

In Oakland, the single worst hot spot is the intersection of Broadway and 13th Street near the 12th Street BART Station. In San Francisco, Halladie Plaza, the shopping area on Market Street near Fifth Street and a busy corner at Third and Market streets have similar characteristics.

San Francisco Robbery Lt. William Canning said these are locations where shoppers, tourists and commuters inevitably end up rubbing elbows with gang members, drug users and homeless people. The result can be volatile.

"These are transit corridors," said Canning. "You have a crossroads where all kinds of people come together. Unfortunately, that can be a useful environment to the criminal element."

Robbery Sgt. Shaughn Ryan said many of these spots - particularly the corner of Fourth and Mission streets, at the Metreon - are weekend hangouts for youths, who often form rat packs that target other youths.

Yet some of the neighborhoods that have seen the biggest increases in robberies are places that once seemed to have largely overcome crime.

Oakland's Oakmore neighborhood, where Joseph Radwan and his family decided to open the Red Boy Pizzeria earlier this year, seems a world away from the violence in many nearby East Oakland neighborhoods.

Nestled in the lower hills among winding streets and oak trees, it and the neighboring Glenview district have seen business boom with trendy new restaurants and cafes moving in along Park and Leimert Boulevards - during a time when crime was on the wane in both Oakland and the nation.

Yet on March 31, eight days after the restaurant opened, two juveniles wearing dark hoodies walked in just as the last two tables of customers were getting ready to leave before closing time.

"One guy went around the tables to the customers and said, 'Get all your cash and put it on the table.' The other guy just sort of swung his gun around," said Radwan, who manages the restaurant that is co-owned by his parents. "It was terrifying."

In Oakland as a whole, robberies increased by 23 percent between 2005 and 2007, but robberies in the lower hills police beats that encompass Oakmore, Glenview, Lakeshore and the Dimond district nearly doubled - going from 34 to 63. Similarly, the upscale Rockridge neighborhood in North Oakland saw robberies jump from 36 in 2005 to 68 last year. Oakland's crime numbers at the neighborhood level are not available for 2004 because of a change in the police department computer system.

"The crooks have realized we're easy marks," said Vivek Bhatia, a management consultant who moved to Rockridge in 2001 and has since become the neighborhood's self-appointed crime expert. After the huge surge in muggings there a couple years ago, he started a neighborhood Web site with monthly crime statistics and installed seven video cameras to guard his home.

His records show the number of violent crimes in the neighborhood have nearly tripled since 2005.

Bhatia said residents often open themselves to becoming victims by failing to take basic precautions, such as locking doors and keeping valuables out of sight. "Nobody wants to admit there's crime here, because it's hard to say, 'I just spent big money to live in a neighborhood with crime problems.' "