Monday, June 26, 2017 This Week's Paper

Businesses ‘go local’ with crime fighting

// Theft ring continues to plague city businesses

A group of up to four or five robbers had been doing grab-and-dash crimes at small businesses around Tacoma’s downtown and in the 6th Avenue District for the last year or so. 

Their crimes were apparently simple. They would reportedly scope out businesses with only women working in them and spread out around the shop to either shoplift items while the clerk or owner was trying to monitor everyone or they would bully their way into the cash register and walk off with whatever else was handy, including cell phones, purses, computers and merchandise. Some of the clerks have reportedly been assaulted.

The robbers apparently robbed a handful of businesses more than once. The actual number of victims, thefts and robberies is still under investigation because police reports are still being gathered and cross referenced. 

The crime spree ended because the criminals did not apparently think business owners would eventually compare notes. Those notes went viral in the world of social media postings by business owners, who have been posting surveillance camera images of the robbers as the theives flow in and out of businesses. Postings about the crimes even made their way onto the city’s Arts and Entertainment e-mail system.

The case took a turn June 27 when Business Improvement Area (BIA) security officers spotted the criminal crew downtown after hitting a business along 6th Avenue. Officers tracked the group of five people through downtown and onto University of Washington-Tacoma grounds at South 19th Street and Pacific Avenue. They alerted campus security and Tacoma Police Department, who then tracked them up the South 19th Street hill before going in for an arrest. Two of the alleged robbers were arrested, while three had already fled the scene, BIA Manager David Schroedel said, noting that officers had the crew on their watch list for about five months.

“We do try to stay on top of things,” he said.

The BIA has its own e-mail alert system of about 200 subscribers for security issues and concerns of interest to businesses operating downtown. It sends out about two alerts a month as it tries to balance between providing information and causing panic or a false sense of criminal activity.

“We get information all the time,” Schroedel said. “If we can verify it, we will send it out.”

A group of business owners are now collecting gifts for the BIA as a “thank you” after they attended court for the arraignments for the arrestees. 

Suffice it to say, convictions will not mean just fines and court costs. Second-degree robbery is a Class B felony, while first-degree robbery bumps up to a Class A felony if a weapon is used or implied or a victim is assaulted. Class B felonies carry a sentence of up to 10 years for each count, while Class A hammers home a life behind bars.

Legal eagles of T-town not associated with the case predict plea deals are already in the works to avoid that.

Anyone wanting to be added to the BIA’s security alert e-mail can contact Schroedel at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).