Tuesday, September 04, 2007
By Ed Johnson
Robberies are increasing across Lee County and today’s bandit is more likely to shoot than in the past, law officers said.
Unincorporated Lee County has seen a 58 percent jump in robberies this year, while Fort Myers has registered a 21 percent increase. Cape Coral has experienced a slight uptick so far compared with last year, records show.
The propensity for violence was underscored last week when Gerald Rabon, a 20-year-old clerk at the Pik-n-Run attached to the Hess station on Alico Road, was shot in the head. He died Friday at Lee Memorial Hospital.
Two suspects, Iris and Chad Moreland, are to have their charges upgraded from robbery to murder, the sheriff’s office said.
The uncle of a clerk also was shot last week at a Chevron station on Lee Boulevard in Lehigh Acres, sheriff’s deputies said. He happened to be there when three armed men decided to hold the place up, deputies said.
The men had complied with the bandit’s orders, but a gunman shot Jack Abrahamsen ,65, in the back as he lay on the ground in front of the convenience store. His injuries were not considered life threatening, according to deputies reports.
Fort Myers police Capt. Delbert Fair said reasons for the increased violence are easy access to guns and apparent willingness to use them.
Force is a part of every robbery, Fair said, but guns are now being used in about 25 per cent of them.
“There are more guns out there now,” he said. “People can debate the reasons for that, but that’s the fact.”
The increase in violence during those robberies has become a concern, Sheriff Mike Scott said.
Scott cited the shooting of Rabon as example of increasing violence.
“I can’t remember that Hess station being robbed, let alone someone being shot there,” he said.
The danger increases when robbers are using drugs, said Sgt. Shawn Ramsey, who heads the sheriff’s robbery unit.
• Unincorporated Lee County had 283 robberies in the first half of 2007, compared with 179 during that same time period in 2006, sheriff’s spokesman John Sheehan said.
• Fort Myers has seen an overall increase in robberies this year, registering 224 from January to August as compared with 185 during the same period last year.
• Cape Coral has seen an increased rate of robberies, police spokeswoman Dyan Lee said.
In 2006, the city registered 83 robberies, 33 involved the use of a firearm. So far this year there’s been 67 robberies, 21 with a firearm, she said.
Fair said he believes population increases account for the increase in robberies.
“As your population grows, — and this county has seen a lot of growth — you get more criminals and more victims.”
A byproduct of those population increases are fewer deputies on patrol, Ramsey said.
“More people mean more calls for service and that means less deputies patrolling,” he said. “Since robberies are crimes of opportunity, that leaves the door open.”
Ramsey also sees a slowing economy as factor in the increase of robberies.
“Robbery is often a crime of desperation.” he said. “The construction industry has slowed down. Those jobs aren’t there now. People will do what they have to do to get by.”
From that perspective, Ramsey said, Florida’s 10-20-Life law doesn’t have much impact. Desperate people seldom consider those penalties, he said.
“These stores that are getting robbed might have $30 in their cash register at night,” Ramsey said. “Anyone thinking logically wouldn’t rob them when using a gun is going to put them away for a minimum of 10 or 20 years.”
In Fort Myers, police have no one area where robberies have been clustered, Fair said.
“A couple of years ago it was along Palm Beach Boulevard,” he said. “Now we’re seeing an increase in commercial robberies and that’s pretty much spread across the board.”
For emphasis he pointed to a computer-generated map of the city pocked with red marks showing recent robberies.
In the county’s jurisdiction, no one area has stood out, sheriff’s Sgt. Larry King said. “It’s been a very sporadic thing. We had a number in North Fort Myers until we made an apprehension,” he said. “We’ve seen it in Lehigh and now in Bonita.”
Sporadic or not, area stores are taking steps to make themselves less inviting targets.
Store managers didn’t want to comment, but signs tell would-be robbers they’re being videotaped.
In addition, the Hess station at 11999 Tamiami Trail in Fort Myers has signs on the door which read “Store has less than $50 after dark.”
Preventing robberies comes down to common sense, Ramsey said. People should avoid dark, secluded areas, stores should be well-lit and equipment like drop safes should be used to limit the amount of cash on hand, he said.
“If you get robbed, comply with the guy’s orders,” he said. “You have a better chance of getting through it okay that way.”
Arrests are a mixed bag, records show. Unincorporated Lee County has the best arrest rate, almost 69 percent of all robberies are cleared and about 80 percent of bank robberies, according to sheriff’s office records.
Fort Myers police have a 9 percent arrest rate, but most of that low number is the result of street robberies where victims either said they could not identify a suspect or victims refused to cooperate with police, department spokeswoman Shelly Flynn said. The department has a 50 percent success rate in solving bank robberies, she noted.
Cape Coral police have made arrests in about 37 percent of the city’s robberies this year, Lee said.
Residents expressed mixed feelings about the increase in robberies.
Bob Curry said he lives in Lehigh Acres and believes crime is “just out of control.”
Bobbie Meyer of Cape Coral said she’s concerned.
“We moved to Lee County because we thought it was one of the safest places. Now you kind of wonder,” she said.
Dawn Bermudez of south Fort Myers said crime is upsetting, but not worrying her.
“I feel safe,” she said. “I just don’t worry about it. We’re probably going to see more of this as the economy goes down.”
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