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[whitespace] Sheriffs, FBI provide robbery survival tips

Agencies give tips to bank and jewelry store employees on how to handle armed robbery

Cupertino--Owners and employees from two groups of businesses most vulnerable to violent robberies, banks and jewelry stores, gathered at the Cupertino Senior Center on July 19 to hear suggestions on how handle all aspects of an armed robbery.

Representatives from FBI, the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office, county emergency service agencies, and the office of the district attorney reported on the situation in Cupertino, which has witnessed a significant number of violent robberies so far in 2001, then listed tips for getting through a robbery safely.

Despite a few callous remarks from law enforcement officials about a bank robber gunned down by a sheriff's deputy, the meeting proceeded with a jovial atmosphere. At one point, Deputy Randy Bynum from the sheriff's office gave a brief update about the case involving Doty, who died on De Anza Boulevard when a traffic deputy shot him three times after a long high-speed pursuit. Doty had carjacked a car and then used the car as his escape vehicle for two bank robberies, one at Downey Savings in Cupertino. Bynum joked that "he won't be robbing any more banks," a remark that he and Special Agent Ed Modinger of the FBI seemed to get a big kick out of.

After an introduction and a statement of purpose from Cupertino Mayor Sandra James, Sheriff Laurie Smith, the first female Sheriff in California, told the attendees, "We want to learn from you all."

Sergeant Skip Shervington, the sheriff's community outreach officer for Cupertino, arranged the meeting with the help of the mayor and the city staff. The idea came about during discussions over the high level of bank and jewelry store robberies in Cupertino so far this year.

After the plans for the meeting jelled, Shervington sent out flyers to banks and jewelry stores, then followed up with a phone call to make sure they knew of the event. Shervington encouraged all invited businesses to bring their employees along so they could learn firsthand how to handle robberies.

The presentations dealt with every aspect of the robbery, from what to do if a suspicious person lingers in a store, to the best ways to navigate the court system. Agent Modinger briefed the crowd on the basic facts about bank robberies throughout the county, and encouraged business owners to take the proper precautions to ensure safety and a speedy apprehension of robbery suspects.

Specifically, Modinger advised them to make sure their surveillance equipment always has enough useable videotape in it, to train their employees in the proper use of the alarm system and to install deterrents whenever possible.

While Modinger said cool heads and calm reactions help during a robbery, he told the audience: "don't be a hero."

Deputy District Attorney Javier Alcala also outlined the primary facts that business owners should know when testifying in court, and how to keep themselves informed of the legal process. Alcala stressed the owners and employees should be able to identify either the suspect or the property they have stolen. In the case of banks, they usually include a package of "bait bills," certain denominations which contain tracking devices, with the money given out during a robbery. This makes it easier to connect the suspect to the heist.

Alcala also reminded the audience that robberies depend on taking property by either force or fear, so witnesses need to report a sense of fear if the thief does not carry a weapon into the robbery. He reported that sometimes a witness will deny being afraid in court, making a conviction difficult.

Next, supervisors from the county communications office, which handles incoming emergency calls and dispatches, explained the best way to report a robbery. The supervisors, Keith Garvey and Bob Eger, encouraged owners and employees to call the communications center even if they have already triggered the businesses alarm system. The alarm goes through the alarm company first, so a direct call to the communications center will get a more immediate response.

Eger also explained that 911 calls made through mobile phones do not go to county communications. He urged businesses to make 911 calls on a landline, or program the direct seven-digit number for communications into their cell phones.

He also tried to assuage concerns over the process the center goes through when receiving an emergency call. Many people become frustrated with the operators, Eger said, because they ask a number of questions during the call. He stressed that the agency designed the questions to provide them with the most important information to respond to the call, and assured the businesses that as soon as the nature of the crime and the location are known, officers make their way to the scene. They do not, he said, wait until the caller answers all the questions to send out a dispatch.

Eger reminded callers to identify themselves and give a distinguishing feature to help officers recognize them when they arrive on the scene. Officers will not enter the scene of a robbery until they make contact with a representative from the business. This prevents the robbers from panicking and possibly injuring someone if police show up at the front door of the establishment. Instead, police will stop a short distance away from the business and watch for the suspect's vehicle until they make contact with someone from the bank.

Shervington said he thinks the meeting performed a good service for the banking and jewelry store communities, and he hopes to expand the event into a series.

"We thought it was pretty successful, so we're going to try and do it again next year," he said.

The next meeting will bring together owners and employees from liquor and convenience stores as well as gas stations. Shervington said although no robberies have occurred at any such businesses in Cupertino this year, that the meeting will help them nonetheless.

"We don't want them to become a target," he said.

Shervington said he was pleased with how the meeting turned out, even down to the catering. But the information passed along made up the most important part of the evening for him.
Kevin Fayle

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Web extra to the August 2-8, 2001 issue of Metro.

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