State police seek to stem holdups by man wielding knife Investigators remind store owners of prevention methods

January 22, 1998|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,SUN STAFF

Hoping to thwart an armed robber who has hit a half-dozen stores since Dec. 22, state police met yesterday with those most affected by the rash of robberies in Carroll and Howard counties -- the owners or representatives of Pizza Hut, Little George's, High's and 7-Eleven.

Mel Higgs, who owns six Little George's convenience stores in Carroll County, was among those invited to the Westminster barracks to meet with investigators. He said he is pleased with the open communication between police and store owners.

"This guy with the knife is one of the few police haven't caught right away," Higgs said. "Between state police and Westminster police, they usually solve these crimes very quickly."

Detective Sgt. Bruce Smith and Tfc. George Noyes called yesterday's meeting to remind store owners of basic prevention techniques -- what to do before, during and immediately after a robbery.

Smith noted that there were 47 armed robberies in Carroll last year, one fewer than in 1996. But the man with a knife has pulled four hold-ups in Carroll this year.

"We want public awareness, because often it's a tip from a customer, if not an employee, that may lead to solving a crime," Smith said.

Smith said nothing can make a store crime-proof and it is unrealistic to think troopers can solve crimes without help from employees or customers who see something suspicious.

"You never know what it may be, a small detail that may be important to police investigating the robbery," Smith said.

Smith urged the owners to instruct employees to call 911, even if they only have a "gut feeling" that someone is acting suspiciously.

Noyes urged them to develop common-sense guidelines, such as keeping little money in cash registers and making frequent "money drops" to a store safe.

Noyes stressed that employees being robbed should remain calm and not confront a robber.

"Don't challenge a robber for $10 or $20," Noyes said. "We don't want anyone hurt."

Employees can help if they can provide a good description of the criminal and the direction in which he fled, Noyes said.

Knowing the direction of flight helps responding troopers saturate an area and enhances the chance of making a quick arrest, he said.

Smith gave store owners copies of robbery questionnaires, suggesting they urge employees to lock the door as soon as a robber leaves, call 911 and write down details of the incident.

Glenn W. Sandford, a loss-prevention specialist for 7-Eleven Stores, a division of The Southland Corp., said his company provides guidelines on handling robberies to franchise owners and corporate store operators.

"Managers routinely receive refresher courses on the types of procedures that [Smith and Noyes] just spoke of," Sandford said.

Brian Rosche, a district manager for Pizza Hut Inc., said his company would not change any procedures. A representative of High's declined to comment.

Witnesses have described the suspect in the recent robberies as white, in his late 20s to mid-30s, 5 feet, 8 inches tall and weighing about 160 pounds. He often wears a dark ski mask and has worn blue sunglasses.

Pub Date: 1/22/98

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