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Robbery-stricken Oakland seeks solutions to end spree

OAKLAND Calif. Concerned that instigators of armed robberies at eight restaurants or bars in this city since July 16 may get bolder and put more lives at risk, police and the mayor have ordered additional precautions and asked for help from the volunteer Guardian Angels patrol group.

The recent robberies at foodservice establishments ranging from bars to pizza parlors to Chinese seafood restaurants generally have involved three black males dressed in dark clothing with hoods and ski masks. At least one of the perpetrators has been armed with a handgun on each occasion, according to police.

Oakland Police Sgt. Michael Poirier said the majority of the robberies were “takeover” style, in which patrons were accosted along with employees. He said the robbers typically struck near closing time.

No one has been seriously injured in the latest rash of robberies, which was preceded by a string of similar restaurant holdups in March and April that investigators believe were tied to the West Oakland Acorn gang. Poirier said two suspects have been arrested and charged with armed robbery and false imprisonment in connection with the spring crime spree, and added that about 50 Acorn gang members were arrested in June on a variety of charges and that many, if not all, remain in jail.

To help close the case, the Crime Stoppers' organization is offering a reward of up to $30,000 for information leading to arrests, Poirier said.

Some Oakland restaurateurs have told newspaper and television reporters that their business is down in the wake of the crimes.

"These takeover robberies have struck at the very heart of our community, because it affects the desire of people to be able to go out at night, to go to restaurants and to go to stores. This has to end and we are being very aggressive in how we deal with this issue," Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums said in a statement earlier this month.

The most recent Oakland robbery occurred the evening of Aug. 6 at the King of King's restaurant on East 12th Street when masked men entered the restaurant and ordered employees and patrons to the ground. Poirier said he could not confirm a report in the Oakland Tribune that the robbers collected and fled with $2,000.

Late last week Oakland Police released surveillance camera video from an earlier robbery at Skyline Pizza on Keller Avenue and asked for help from the public in identifying the individuals shown.

Oakland officials on Tuesday confirmed that a number of Guardian Angels invited by the mayor’s office would begin patrolling selected Oakland neighborhoods beginning Friday night. Poirier said it was not yet clear how many Guardian Angels would be in Oakland, but he said his department already met with some leaders to discuss patrol guidelines and identify the neighborhoods or districts in which the city can use the volunteers’ help.

Formed in 1979 in New York City by Curtis Sliwa to combat armed robberies in the subway system, the nonprofit group today has more than 100 chapters worldwide. Guardian Angels, who are recognized by their red berets, are trained in self-defense and peaceful intervention tactics, but they are seen primarily as an extra set of eyes and ears for police.

Along with seeking aid from the Guardian Angels, the city is having its neighborhood services coordinators and some police officers meet with business owners to review their security and cash handling practices, discuss the installation of surveillance cameras, and offer suggestions for how businesses might lessen their appeal to would-be robbers.

The recent series of restaurant robberies began just a day after the Oakland City Council voted 6-2 to place on the November ballot a parcel-tax measure, which, if approved, would generate nearly $40 million to hire an additional 105 police officers and 75 police technicians. The police department serving the city of about 400,000 people now has about 750 police officers.

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