As crime increases, police offer safety tips
By ANDREW MEACHAM
© St. Petersburg Times,
ST. PETERSBURG -- Crimes against businesses on 34th Street S have increased in recent months, say police, who gave owners a heads-up on Tuesday.
At least one armed robbery was committed from March 1 to June 23 between the 3000 and 5400 blocks, police statistics show -- along with four complaints of burglaries against businesses, five shoplifting arrests, seven vehicle burglaries, eight cases of forgery or fraud, eight gasoline drive-aways, 12 auto thefts, and 39 other thefts.
Detectives briefed the 34th Street South Business Watch, an organization started in 1999 by community police Officer Richard Grimberg. Among other things, the owners were told to shut down operations when a robbery occurs.
"I can't tell you how many times we've gone into a convenience store, and they're selling beer and chips at the same counter where the bad guy put his hand to get the money," said robbery Detective Steve Corbett of the St. Petersburg police.
Video monitoring systems go a long way toward preventing crimes or solving them, Corbett said. The robbery tape may not yield enough to get a conviction, he said.
"But when he was scoping out the neighbor deciding whether to rob them, that's the tape we use," Corbett said.
Corbett suggested that owners stock a phony VCR and change the "tape" daily. That way employees, who sometimes are a party to robberies, don't know that the real tape is hidden elsewhere. When the robber demands the videotape, the owner hands over a blank one.
Radio Shack carries security systems starting at about $180 for a wireless camera and monitor. A typical convenience store set-up runs just under $600 -- $189 for the monitor and $100 for each of four cameras.
Sam's Club sells a 5 1/2-inch, black-and-white monitor with two cameras for about $90. Prices top out with a four-camera package, including a 17-inch color monitor, for $700.
Ramada Limited leases a six-camera system from a company called CamERA for about $300 a month. Lou Calandra, the general manager, said that the system has come in handy for catching intruders, and that the company offers upgrades in equipment for nominal increases.
Suncoast Resort Hotel, where up to 3,000 people flock on weekends, goes further, employing 17 security staffers and an identification checker at the property's entrance on 3000 34th St. S. Co-owner Lester Wolfe praised St. Petersburg police, who work overtime at Suncoast. The resort pays the city $35 an hour for the extra police help.
"They are very good at being present, but not omnipresent," Wolfe said.
Some mom-and-pop businesses learn the hard way not to make change or pay for deliveries out of their pockets, Corbett said. Criminals, after all, talk to each other.
"The next thing you know, the bad guy comes in and demands all of the money in the register -- and the money in your pocket," he said.
Corbett advised business owners to vary their routine making bank deposits, and not to go to the bank every Thursday at 10 a.m. Carrying cash in unpredictable and varied containers such as a paper bag on one day, an Igloo lunch pail the next, beats a rubber bank envelope.
Bank envelopes can be filled with slips of paper to fool the robber, Corbett said.
Event to honor America's history
Lakeview Presbyterian Church, 1310 22nd Ave. S, is holding an "Americana Sing-Along" at 1 p.m. today -- described by choir director Fran Sims as a "free, fun, patriotic celebration of Independence Day for everyone." Refreshments will be served.
HISTORIC KENWOOD: 7:30 p.m. Thursday. Albright United Methodist Church, 2750 Fifth Ave. N. Codes supervisor Gary Bush.
NORTH DOWNTOWN: 7 p.m. Thursday. The Sunshine Center, 330 Fifth St. N. Downtown Partnership executive director Don Shea. St. Petersburg Free Clinic executive director Jane Egbert.
In case of a robbery
Start by noticing the head and work your way down. Try to remember the face.
Notice tattoos, clothing, and any vehicles used, including color.
Was the gun a revolver or an automatic? (Revolvers have cylinders which store all shells. Automatics have a clip and eject spent shells.) What color was the gun?
Shut down the business until police have had a chance to gather evidence.
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