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Analyzing Troubling Surge of ‘Takeover’ Robberies

From a Times staff writer

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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

Q: But isn’t the Valley considered a relatively safe area?

A: Yes. The Valley has seen about a 17% increase in robberies so far this year.

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The West Valley has seen a nearly 50% increase -- but that area has relatively little crime. Even with the jump in robberies, the West Valley has had only half as many robberies this year as Southwest Los Angeles.

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Valley crime wave

2006

Aug. 20 Ca Del Sole

Aug. 15 Foxfire Room

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Aug. 9 Cobras & Matadors

Aug. 2 Valley Inn

July 28 Owl Cafe

July 17 Barones

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July 16 Carmines

July 10 The Wild

June 21 Big Jim’s

June 15 Denny’s

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June 11 Sisley’s Italian

May 29 Moon Shadow

May 20 Roscoe’s

May 2 El Chapparal

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Mar. 10 Prime Italian

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2005

Oct. 9 The Bunker

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Aug. 26 Valley Ranch

Aug. 21 Al Reeds

Aug. 17 Residuals

Aug. 11 Darband

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Aug. 11 Alessio

July 13 Super Mercado

July 8 Shakey’s Pizza

June 15 Ireland’s Thirty-two

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June 5 Hollywood Video

May 21 Prime Italian Corp.

May 20 Chao’s Thai Cafe

May 7 Steak Joynt

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Mar. 6 Millie’s

Mar. 6 Springbok Bar & Grill

Mar. 5 Louise Food Market

Mar. 4 “R” Bar & Grill

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Mar. 3 “B” Bonkers

Feb. 27 Woodley Market

Feb. 25 Valley Ranch BBQ

Feb. 21 BCD Tofu House

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Feb. 12 Steak Joynt

Jan. 2 Mr Cecil’s Calif. Ribs

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2004

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Dec. 27 Seashell

Dec. 26 Monty’s

Dec. 20 Pogo’s Bar & Grill

Dec. 11 The Sherman Room

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Dec. 5 Safari Room

Dec. 2 Sid’s Seafood House

Nov. 29 Brandywine

Nov. 20 Tammy’s Bar & Grill

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Nov. 9 Norwood Inn

Oct. 31 Tonga Hut Club

Oct. 20 The Candy Cat Club

Oct. 19 Millie’s

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Oct. 8 Pogo’s Bar & Grill

July 23 The Oyster House


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