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Robbery rampage sweeps across city

| Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2004, 12:00 p.m.

City police are battling a surge in home and business robberies this year.

From January through June, police logged 821 robbery cases, 150 more than at the same time last year. Much of the surge is from drug addicts looking for a quick buck to finance their habits and bored young people looking for kicks, city police Sgt. Andrew Lisiecki said.

"Much of it could be junkies needing a fix, the economy, you name it," said Lisiecki, head of the Pittsburgh police robbery squad.

Businesses also have been a favorite of criminals this summer, police said. The recent rash of robberies is not limited to the city's poorer neighborhoods.

"It's happening all over. No areas in the city are exempt," said Sgt. Mark Eggleton of the Zone 5 station, which includes the neighborhoods of East Hills, South Oakland and Homewood.

"These people will bust in your front door and take your things at gunpoint," Eggleton said. "They don't care."

A handicapped man was punched in the face and robbed of $2,020 Friday morning as he sat in his car in front of Ritter's Diner in Bloomfield. The suspect, described as an athletic white man, made a clean getaway.

Some neighborhood groups are taking matters into their own hands.

After a spate of recent heists in Lawrenceville, Tony Ceoffe of Lawrenceville United, a nonprofit citizens group, staged a number of public safety committee meetings for residents and began coordinating patrols with block-watch volunteers.

Ceoffe described those targeting homes in his neighborhood as "a bunch of scrawny, long-haired, white male dope addicts."

For the moment, the robberies have stopped, Ceoffe said.

Ceoffe's brother, Michael, had his truck ransacked and his 2004 Pontiac Grand Prix stolen from his Lawrenceville garage on Valentine's Day. The brazen thief took the car on a joyride before trashing the vehicle, causing $7,000 in damage.

"It was the first new car that I ever bought," he said.

He recalls seething "with rage as I watched the kid snicker and joke with his lawyer as he was sentenced to less than a year in a special work camp."

To combat the crime surge, police say they are increasing patrols in hard-hit areas. Authorities say these measures alone will not stop the trend and warn citizens to be alert and keep doors and windows locked.

Additional Information:

Safety tips

At home

  • Keep doors and windows locked

  • Keep outdoor lights on at night

  • Keep landscaping trimmed away from doors and windows to prevent people from hiding there

  • Don't let strangers in the house

  • Advertise a security system by placing signs outside

  • Don't leave a key under the mat

    At work

  • Watch for suspicious vehicles

  • Keep as little money in the cash drawer as possible

  • Don't count cash in the presence of customers

  • If someone does initiate a robbery, don't use weapons. Follow the criminal's orders to reduce the chances of getting hurt.

    Source: Pittsburgh Tribune-Review research

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