Business owners are being urged to be on high alert in Montgomery County, Maryland, after police suspect at least one group of armed robbers are targeting restaurant owners.
Montgomery County police said since early January, three cases ended with owners being robbed at gunpoint or knifepoint in Silver Spring and Takoma Park.
“It appears these suspects are watching these business owners exit their place of business and then following them home,” Montgomery County police spokeswoman Cpl. Rebecca Innocenti said.
The first case happened on Jan. 1, just before 11 p.m. Detectives said a woman who had just left her Takoma Park takeout restaurant arrived home and was approached by three men. The woman told police one of the men hit her on the head and stole her purse. Inside her purse were business proceeds and car keys.
A man who came to help the woman said he was robbed of his wallet at gunpoint as well, according to police.
Police believe the same suspects returned to the victim’s restaurant precisely a month later, on Feb. 7, and stole her silver SUV.
Days later, on Feb. 16, that stolen vehicle was used in the robbery of a second victim, police said.
Detectives said the SUV rear-ended a female victim heading home from a Silver Spring takeout restaurant at around 9 p.m. When the woman got out to check the damage, she told police two men got out of the vehicle; and while one threw her to the ground and held her at gunpoint, the other went into her car and stole her purse. It contained money from her business. The robbers then drove off in a silver SUV.
“We believe those are connected based on the vehicle that was used,” Innocenti said.
The stolen SUV was found by police, abandoned the following day.
Innocenti said the third case happened just after 6 p.m. Thursday. In that case, a man and woman left the restaurant they owned in Hyattsville and, according to police, were followed to their home in the Fairland area of Silver Spring.
The Spanish-speaking owners told detectives that two young men got out of a dark-colored, four-door car and demanded the woman’s purse at knifepoint in Spanish. The suspects took it and then drove off. Inside the woman’s purse was cash from their business.
While the case is similar to the first two, investigators haven’t officially linked all three together yet.
As they search for those responsible, Innocenti said the police department urges business owners to examine their procedures for carrying cash out of their businesses.
She said owners should also be extra vigilant, especially when leaving, by looking for suspicious cars or people near their businesses.
“If something doesn’t feel right, if a vehicle or person doesn’t look to be in the right place, we need you to call the police and have them come check it out,” Innocenti said.
The police department is providing these tips for business owners.
Robbery prevention tips
- Employees and employers should remain alert and observant. Take note of suspicious persons or vehicles around the business, especially at opening and closing time.
- Try to have at least two employees open/close the business, especially if it is dark.
- Try to use the most visible entrance to the business and avoid back or secluded entrances when opening/closing the business.
Bank deposit procedures
- Do not advertise that you are carrying the bank deposit.
- Make deposits during the daylight hours, and go directly to the bank.
- Try not to carry cash out of your business.
- Stay alert and trust your instincts. If you see suspicious people loitering near you or your vehicle do not approach or confront them. Call police.
- Do not always travel the same routes to and from work. Be observant and check often to see if you are being followed. Call police if necessary.
Also, if you notice someone following you, Innocenti said the best advice is to keep driving and call 911.
Anyone with information on any of the robberies is encouraged to contact Montgomery County Police at 240-773- 5070.
Anonymous tips can be made to Crime Solvers of Montgomery County online or by calling 1-866-411-TIPS (8477).