Noe Valley Voice June 2003

Disturbing Rise in Robberies

By Kathy Dalle-Molle

Four terrifying robberies of women occurred in Noe Valley in April (for details, see this month's Police Beat, starting page 11). In three of the four incidents, the suspects carried guns, and in one heart-stopping situation, the robber pointed his gun at a baby in a stroller. Fortunately, no one was injured in any of the incidents, but the suspects managed to get away with handbags, cash, credit cards, and other personal items.

At presstime, no suspects had been identified or apprehended, according to San Francisco Police Department Inspector John Peterson, who investigates robberies occurring throughout the Mission District. "At this point, we don't know if the incidents are related," Peterson told the Voice. "All we know is that there are teenage and young adult males out there who have been accosting people with guns."

Peterson also acknowledged that robberies in Noe Valley and throughout the Mission appeared to be on the rise this spring.

"Good weather and the poor economy are probably factors in the rise," he said. "Most often, it's young people in their 20s who are committing these street robberies. Sometimes, it's just because they need $20, but they're willing to fight for it."

The four April robberies in which women were targeted occurred at different times and locations in the neighborhood. In one incident, two women were walking together on 23rd Street near Chattanooga on a Thursday evening at about 8:30 p.m. when they were accosted by three men who forced them to give up their purses. In a second incident a day later, a woman was walking alone on Jersey near Noe a little after midnight when three teenage boys confronted her with a gun and tried to take her handbag. In yet another robbery, occurring at about 11 p.m. on a Wednesday, a woman was unlocking her front door at Clipper and Diamond when a man wearing a ski mask pointed a gun in her face and demanded her tote bag.

The stroller incident, which took place at 10:50 a.m. on a Tuesday morning, involved a single male suspect who pointed a gun at three women (one who was babysitting an 8-month-old girl) while they were waiting at a Muni stop at Noe and 29th streets. (A complete description of the robbery and suspect is on page 11.)

Peterson has been reviewing the police reports for these incidents and others in the Mission District, looking for matches in the descriptions of suspects and the manner in which they are targeting their victims. "If I see any similarities, I will send out an alert to stations in the area to be on the lookout for that suspect," he says. In late April, the police had already flagged the stroller incident as one needing special attention.

Meanwhile, Peterson encourages Noe Valley residents to take precautions to protect themselves against street robbers.

"Do not walk by yourself, particularly late at night," he advises. "And always be aware of your surroundings--what is going on behind you, in front of you, and across the street. Cross the street if you see someone suspicious. Walk on streets that are busier and where there is good lighting--even if it takes you longer to get to your destination. Don't use a dark street just because it's a shortcut to your destination."

Peterson also advises residents to "have a plan" before they go out.

"Make sure and carry a cell phone so you can call 911 if you see someone suspicious," he says. "In the April robberies in Noe Valley, the suspects were after the women's purses, so it makes sense for women to carry their cash and credit cards in a jacket or pants pocket or a small coin purse."

It's also a good idea to leave any sentimental possessions at home, says Peterson. "Sometimes people will try to hold on to their belongings instead of just handing them over," he says. "They might not care about losing whatever cash they have, but they want to keep their sentimental possessions--photographs or a good-luck piece. In the heat of the moment, they're not thinking about the severity of what's going on. My advice is to not carry those items with you."

Although at mid-month no robberies had been reported for May in Noe Valley, Peterson says he continues "to be concerned with what's been happening in the area. I was just off for four days and came back to see seven new robbery reports on my desk," he said.

"Noe Valley is a small part of the Mission, but people who live in the neighborhood branch out to visit nearby areas. They go to 18th and Sanchez or 20th and Guerrero. It's important that people be aware of their surroundings wherever they are."

If anyone has information about the recent street robberies in Noe Valley, please call Inspector John Peterson in the SFPD's Robbery Detail at 553-1201. h