Q&A: Analyzing the Surge of Takeover Robberies

Question: There have been more than 200 "takeover" robberies of restaurants and other businesses over the last year. Why has this become such a problem?

Answer: Los Angeles police officials believe that robbers have discovered they can make out with a good deal of cash and valuables by targeting local restaurants without facing the tight security of banks. The upturn comes as bank robberies in Southern California have plunged -- 455 last year compared with 2,600 a year during their peak in the early 1990s.

Q: What exactly is a takeover robbery?

A: Restaurant robberies are nothing new. But officials say the latest ones are more aggressive.

Usually, they involve masked and armed robbers swarming a business.

The assailants often make a dramatic gesture, such as holding a gun to someone's head. They take cash and other valuables -- not just from the till but also from employees and patrons.

Q: Has anyone been killed in one of these robberies?

A: Last year, three bandits in ski masks robbed a Thai restaurant in Northridge.

The owner ran out to get help, but the robbers fatally shot her stepson, who worked there. The attackers got away with about $300.

Q: What can businesses do to protect themselves?

A: Officials have talked to some retailers about taking steps to keep from becoming victims. Supermarkets are often targeted for liquor thefts, so the Los Angeles Police Department has suggested that stores move such goods to aisles in the back. Officials have urged restaurant owners to make sure back doors are locked and to consider beefing up security.

Q: Why are the robbers so hard to catch?

A: In large part, it's because they wear masks. LAPD Chief William J. Bratton and other city officials are supporting state legislation that would give up to two years of extra prison time to robbers who use masks.

Q: Is one robbery crew responsible?

A: Police believe one group of criminals is responsible for about 50 of the robberies.

Detectives said thieves are probably casing establishments before robbing them. The robbers may even be sophisticated enough to try to gauge what police response to a crime at the location would be and how frequently patrol cruisers go by the restaurant.

Q: Why has the San Fernando Valley been so hard hit by such crimes?

A: Police aren't sure. But one theory is that the Valley has easy access to freeways, so robbers can make quick getaways.


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