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Statesboro robbers getting bolder
Local law enforcement officials offer opinions, advice on local crimes
Graphic-ArmedRobbery

Students react to recent robberies near campus

By JEFF HARRISON
jharrison@statesboroherald.com

A recent surge in armed robberies occurring near the Georgia Southern University campus has caught the attention of some students, who say they would like to see the trend reverse.
Since Sept. 1, a total of 19 armed robberies/home invasions have taken place within Statesboro city limits, 13 of them in areas surrounding the college.
While many students say they do not feel immediately threatened, they do confess concern about the persisting reports.
“There are a lot of incidents and it is getting ridiculous,” said Ashlei Perkins, a Georgia Southern senior, who works on campus  but lives in an apartment complex outside the school’s perimeter. “I work at the information desk at the Russell Union and we try to take all of the precautions that we can.
“There is a new program implemented at the Russell Union that, if you work here, says you cannot leave the building by yourself late at night. So, if I do have to be by myself, I call Public Safety to send me an escort,” she said.
Several students say the uptick in crime — a trend not unprecedented; robberies annually become more common during the final quarter of the year — has hit close to home.
“The robberies don’t really affect me personally, but it is concerning,” said Dylan Johnson, a freshman at the college. “People living in the same suite I do found their car windows broken recently.
“One of the incidents actually involved someone I know,” Perkins said. “They were held up at their car. It is even scarier when you know the person.”
To ensure their safety, students say they are taking the same, common-sense precautions they would during any time of the year.
“You can’t always help what happens to you, but you can try to take care of yourself. I don’t walk alone by myself at night, I lock my doors, and I always have my phone on me,” sophomore Emily Faz said. “I am not too concerned about the incidents. I lived in a college town before coming here, and I grew up in a college town. You learn what to do to be smart about things and avoid certain situations. I feel like individuals can do a lot to protect themselves.”
Senior Brianna Dumas agreed.
“Being a female, you have to look out for yourself more than average, but day to day the robberies haven’t really affected me,” she said. “I live down the road from an apartment complex that gets a lot of attention, and I do take some caution, but no more than normal. People should use common sense — walk in groups and lock their doors.”
Thanks to an “Eagle Alert” system that sends text messages, voice mails and emails to students’ phones when an incident is reported, most living on or around Georgia Southern’s campus are aware of crimes occurring nearby. To address the continuing issues with robberies, police have increased patrols in problem areas and made several arrests in connection with the crimes.
Student sentiment about the police response is varied.
Some say they would like to see something more.
“I think police can definitely do more,” Perkins said. “They certainly give us tips and ideas on what to do, but I think they could patrol more and provide quicker responses. I have actually called Public Safety here at Georgia Southern and been put on hold.”
Others applaud the effort.
“I think police are doing their hardest,” senior Liza Whitaker said. “Their main concern is keeping us safe. Some people are just always going to slip by.”
Sophomore Kyle Morgan, noting a recent arrest, shared the sentiment.
“I think the police are certainly responding and doing what they can,” he said.

Jeff Harrison may be reached at (912) 489-9454.

    First of two parts.

In the past, armed robberies in Statesboro were unusual occurrences that raised eyebrows.
In the past few years, however, the crime has become increasingly common, and the methods the robbers employ are increasingly brazen.
The days of simple hold-ups seem to be gone. Today, criminals are working in pairs or in groups, often burst into homes with guns waving, and physically attack their victims — sometimes even stealing their clothes.
“Trust me, we all know how lucky we are that we have not somebody killed at one of these convenience stores,” said Bulloch County Lynn Anderson, referring to a similar trend outside the city limits — a series of holdups in convenience stores.
Since Sept. 1, there have been 19 armed robberies of victims in their homes or walking in residential areas. Of those, 13 took place near the Georgia Southern University campus.
There have been only two robberies actually on the university campus this year, University Police Chief Mike Russell said. Neither he nor Statesboro Public Safety Director Wendell Turner can readily explain the reason the majority of these robberies have taken place near the university.
The actual number of armed and violent robberies has not risen significantly since 2008, Turner said. However, this type of crime does increase in the latter part of the year, especially near the holiday season.
“In my opinion, there are a lot of different reasons,” Turner said. “It’s that time of the year, and folks are looking for quick cash.”
Former Statesboro Police Chief Stan York said he feels the densely populated apartment complexes around the Georgia Southern campus, along with societal changes, could be reasons why more than half of reported armed and forceful robberies in the past three months have occurred near campus.
“With the activity and large volume of people coming and going around campus, it’s easy (for criminals) to go in undetected,” he said. “These apartment type complexes are multi-story, and people coming and going don’t draw that much attention.
“Society is so mobile and many (offenders) are from out of town. They come in, do a quick robbery, and get out of there and get lost. If the offenders were local, somebody would eventually talk,” he said.
Turner pointed out that the number of robberies – with weapons or simply using physical force -- hasn’t really increased during the past four years.
The numbers “have pretty much held steady since 2008,” he said in a meeting at the Statesboro Herald office last week with Russell, Anderson, and others during which the recent armed robberies were discussed.
Turner noted that burglaries also increase during this time of the year, adding that criminals possibly target university-area apartment complexes because they know students are leaving for the holidays.
“It is a busier time, with the holidays, and there is more community activity (that could mask an armed robbery attempt),” said Statesboro police Maj. Scott Brunson, who also attended the meeting of law enforcement officials.
“It may be people are more out and about, spending money,” Turner said. “The pond (the Georgia Southern University area) is stocked a little fuller with fish.”
York feels criminals might also target students for armed robberies because they aren’t as concerned about their security.
“Students are not as security conscious as they could be,” he said. “They leave stuff out in view in their cars and talk about what they have.
”There is a certain amount of awareness you need in order to be safe,” he continued. “This is a growing problem, and there is no one thing to blame.
“Citizens need to take a more proactive position to protect themselves. Be more aware. Students are usually young and don’t have life experience” and that makes them more vulnerable, he said.
Dr. Robert Friedmann, a professor emeritus of criminal justice at Georgia State University, said the change in criminals’ modus operandi, or method of committing the crimes, is more notable than any increase in occurrence.
He has not noticed any increase in robberies near the campuses of other universities, including larger ones such as Georgia Institute of Technology, Georgia State and University of Georgia, he said.
There might be several reasons the majority of armed and strong-arm robberies since September have taken place near Georgia Southern’s campus.
“It could be a fluke, or gangs going throughout the city,” he said. “The easiest explanation is that it is coincidence.
“It is interesting that their modus operandi has changed,” he continued. “The number of incidents have not been much different than in other places, but I have heard from police departments reporting more brazen behavior of perpetrators. That is nothing new.”
In 2011 and 2008, Statesboro police investigated 58 robberies each year. In 2009 there were 62 reported robberies; in 2010 there were only 47. So far in 2012, there have been 44 armed robberies reported in the city limits, Turner said.
Of the 13 armed or strong-arm robberies near Georgia Southern University’s campus since September, there were 17 male victims (seven white, 10 black) and three female victims (all black).
Police incident reports listed the offenders as either black males or “unknown suspects.”
Seven of the 13 cases involved guns. In other cases, the victims were overpowered. Of the 13 cases near campus, only one incident listed a single suspect; the rest listed two to nine suspects. In several incidents, the victims were walking at night.
Of the six incidents occurring at other places in the city since September, there were four black male victims, an Asian male, five white males and one white female. Only one of the seven incidents did not involve guns, according to reports.
In many cases, suspects approached a victim who was walking or otherwise occupied, such as feeding dogs or knocking on a door when the robbery occurred. In two cases, suspects demanded cash and asked “Where is it at? Where is the weed?”
Seven of the 19 armed or forceful robberies reported since September have been linked to drug activity, Turner said.
Some suspects physically attacked the victims, and in a couple of cases, stole the victim’s shoes or clothing. These tactics are different from a simple armed robbery in which a suspect simply points a gun, he said.
Russell said that just because an apartment complex is near the university doesn’t mean the tenants are students. In some of the older apartment complexes, the majority of tenants are non-students, he said.
York said many lower income citizens move into the older apartment complexes as they are vacated by students moving into the newer communities. Many may not have a job and prey on college students as victims, he said. “The economy has an effect,” York said. “There are jobs out there but people don’t want to work. People are not working, and trying to make a profit wherever they can. They need to eat or have a substance abuse problem, and they’re going to meet their needs.”
Georgia Southern University President Brooks Keel addressed the safety issue, praising university police in efforts to keep the campus safe, but did not answer specific questions as to why he felt there were a higher number of armed and strong-arm robberies near the university campus, referring such questions to Russell.
“One of our main priorities at Georgia Southern University is the safety of our students, faculty and staff,” he said. “We take this very seriously, and, as a result, we have one of the best university public safety departments not only in the state, but in the country.”
What can students and other citizens do to avoid becoming victims? York said it amounts to common sense.
He said that students being aware of surroundings and not talking so much about what valuables they have, as well as apartment complexes taking extra security measures, would go far in deterring crime.
“Police can only do so much,” he said. Apartment complex owners “could take a better approach and provide security cameras and better security for citizens, It would benefit them as well as their renters.”
Turner also offered advice for residents that might help prevent them from becoming victims of robberies and other violent crimes.
 “Be aware of your surroundings … pay attention to things that seem out of place. Call 911 with any information that you feel could be a crime occurring or about to occur, and do not leave valuables in plain view from any of your property: vehicle, residence, sheds or outbuildings,” he said.
He advised against “flashing cash or valuable property for people to see that you do not know,” and said people traveling at night should “be mindful of who is around you and upon returning home check from your vehicle to see if anyone is around that is out of place.”
If someone knocks on your door, “Verify who is knocking at your door before opening it, if you do not know them then ask their business with you. Keep porch lights or outside lights on- this is usually a good deterrent for criminals.”
 The Statesboro Police is offering a reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of any offender tied to the armed robberies or robberies, he said.
Anyone with information about these cases or any other crimes should contact the Statesboro Police Department Investigations Bureau at (912) 764-9911.
Tips can also be submitted at Internet website www.tipsoft.com or by text. Send the text “TIPSSPD (plus your message)” to 274637 (CRIMES). All information is strictly confidential, he said.

Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at (912) 489-9414.

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