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Robberies in Gainesville increase in August
Police encouraging store owners to take precautions
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Ahmed Tharani, manager of the Shell station at the corner of U.S. 129 and West Ridge Road, hands Angela Pruitt a lottery ticket Friday. The station was robbed twice in August, two of 10 robberies this month in Gainesville. - photo by Tom Reed

Every store owner dreads it: someone walking up to the counter and demanding the money in the cash register.

A string of recent armed robberies has brought that fear to the forefront for both owners and store clerks.

In August, 10 robberies happened in Gainesville, seven of those armed. That compares to two total robberies in July and three in June.

"We definitely have seen an increase in the armed robberies at the convenience stores within the past month," said Sgt. Chad Ford of the Gainesville Police Department's Criminal Investigations Division.

"It seemed to spike more at the end of summer unlike the middle of summer when you would expect it to be," he said.

Ford pointed to economic trouble as a possible explanation.

"It's hard times," Ford said. "People are needing money."
On the other hand, there are those just looking for an adrenaline rush.

"Of course you've got the aspect where they may be doing it for a thrill," he said. "At this point the main thing they're focusing on that we can tell is the money, but if it's because they're down on their luck or whatever, I'm not sure."

From January through August there have been 28 reported cases of robberies in Gainesville, with 12 arrests made. Ford said the department is still investigating the other cases.

"My investigators are working as hard as they can trying to develop leads to locate suspects, locate any witnesses we may have that are out there," he said. "We have a few leads that the investigators are following up on."

The investigations rely heavily on information from people outside the police department, Ford said.

"Any lead or any tip that we get in, even anonymous tips, we follow up on and do everything we can to see if we can develop something," he said.

Police are also working on prevention.

"We've, of course, stepped up patrols," Ford said.

"Also, our investigators, when they're out in the field doing fieldwork, they're in unmarked cars, so they'll be checking businesses, parking lots, convenience stores and so forth."

Joe Britte, public information officer for Gainesville Police, said the department has also been informing business owners how to protect themselves.

"We have gone around to these local businesses and told them and spoke with them," Britte said. "They are aware of the current events and if they have any money whatsoever to go ahead and deposit immediately."

Ahmed Tharani, owner of the Shell Food Mart at West Ridge Road and U.S. 129, is one of those owners who is far too familiar with armed robberies. His store was robbed twice in August.

In a robbery on Aug. 26, the suspect stole more than $600. No arrests have been made in either case at the Shell Food Mart.

Tharani said since those armed robberies he has been exploring options to protect himself.

"I'm trying to get bulletproof glass, so it can help me," he said.

He's reconsidering owning convenience store, though.

"Actually I want to get out of this kind of business," he said. "It's really scary nowadays. It's not worth it."

Britte advised store owners to take specific precautions — make sure security cameras are in place and working and make sure the business is secure at night. Owners can also request an escort to the bank to deposit cash, which is a free service the Gainesville Police Department offers.

"If by chance you have a big day, you can call our dispatch and have an escort ... to the bank to drop in a deposit," Britte said.

Britte said entering autos, when someone enters a vehicle with intent to commit a theft or felony, and robberies outside of stores have also increased.

"People are watching you," Ford said. "If they see you standing in line with a large amount of money they may go out and wait in the parking lot."

Ford said with the holiday shopping season coming up, people need to be aware and take precautions to protect their belongings.

"It doesn't take but a few seconds to shatter a window and then reach in and grab your stuff and leave," Ford said. "Be watchful and keep alert."

Anyone with information on any robberies is asked to contact the Gainesville Police Department's tip line at 770-533-5873.

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