Palo Alto police are investigating a string of 14 robberies that have occurred around the city since late September -- the largest crime wave the city has seen in more than two years.
Police Lt. Sandra Brown said the number of reported robberies -- incidents in which someone uses force or fear to take someone else's property -- has gone up by 24 percent between 2009 and this year in Palo Alto. There have been 36 robberies so far this year, including 22 since August, according to police data.
The recent string of robberies is the worst in the city since late 2008, when 26 robberies took place between August and December. Many of those were strong-arm street robberies took place near the downtown Caltrain station.
Palo Alto police have already made three arrests in connection with the recent incidents, Brown said. On Sept. 20, police arrested Jose Alfredo Plaza, 18, of Santa Clara, for allegedly threatening a female victim and taking her purse at Forest Ave. and Bryant St. Police are still looking for another suspect associated with this incident.
Police arrested another man, 33-year-old Raymond Charles Lewis, of San Francisco, on Oct. 10 for the carjacking of a 2009 Toyota Prius from the 200 block of University Avenue. Lewis allegedly used a gun to threaten the female driver before taking the car.
On Nov. 5, police arrested two other people, including a 16-year-old suspect and Anna Loiloi Umafuke, 24, from East Palo Alto, for stealing a wallet from a victim at the 500 block of Forest Avenue. The two suspects were found in East Palo Alto shortly after the robbery and arrested.
While these particular incidents occurred around downtown Palo Alto, other neighborhoods have also seen their fair share of robberies. Brown said the recent robberies have taken place throughout the city and included incidents in Midtown, south Palo Alto, and other local neighborhoods.
Two recent robberies occurred in central Palo Alto, including one last Thursday (Dec. 16) in which an armed robber held up two people in the driveway of a Marion Avenue home. The robber, who was described as a black man in his 20s wearing a dark jacket and dark pants, took a wallet, cash and credit cards from the victim.
The previous Saturday (Dec. 11), a robber came up behind a woman who had just parked her car in the 900 block of El Cajon Way, north of Oregon Express. He took her purse and ran off, ultimately driving away in a dark four-door vehicle.
Brown said police are investigating a "person of interest" who may have been involved in three recent robberies and are cross-referencing cases in surrounding jurisdictions for possible similarities.
Despite the recent influx of robberies, the number for the year remains below the 2007 and 2008 levels, when the city saw 47 and 43 robberies, respectively. (See the chart, at left.)
The Police Department issued a statement Wednesday reminding people to be aware of their surroundings and advising them to cooperate with the robber's demands. The department is encouraging anyone with information about any of the recent crimes to call the department at 650-329-2413.