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Arnold Sunoco hit seven times since 1996

Chuck Biedka
| Monday, Dec. 14, 2009

Despite repeated robberies, the Sunoco gas station-convenience store along Freeport Road continues to operate.

The Freeport Road store, owned and operated by Sunoco, has been robbed at least seven times since 1996, according to Arnold police records. Based on a search of the Valley News Dispatch's archives, it appears the Sunoco is the region's most-robbed store.

Just before midnight Tuesday, a lone man flashed a silver handgun and made off with a small amount of money he threw into a shopping bag. No arrest has been made.

Arnold police Chief Eric Doutt said police have urged Sunoco to move the counter and cash register deeper into the store and add surveilance cameras and more outside lights.

While plans are in the works to make improvements, it's unclear when they might happen, Sunoco spokesman Jeff Peters, who said the store has added lighting.

The Arnold store is scheduled to receive general improvements, but because of the economy, it's unknown when that will occur, he said.

"This is sad. We made the suggestions to them years ago when the economy was good," Doutt said.

The chief said officers continue to patrol near the store and visit at different times.

A co-author of a study on convenience store robberies is skeptical about Sunoco's claims of future improvements.

"It Sunoco can't do it, who can?" asked Rutgers University criminal justice professor Ronald V. Clarke.

He said the best thing any store can do is to have two or more employees at night.

"In the eyes of robbers, it usually makes it much riskier," Clarke said.

Stores seek to make it convenient for customers and difficult for robbers, said co-author Michael Scott of the University of Wisconsin Law School.

Clarke and Scott wrote a guide on convenience store robberies for the Center for Problem-Oriented Policing, a nonprofit associated with the U.S. Department of Justice.

Scott, the center's director and a former Madison, Wisc., police officer, said Doutt's suggestions are among actions that would "downsize the risk."

Not making changes could easily lead to other robberies, according to Jeff Leonard, a spokesman for the National Association of Convenience Stores.

"Unfortunately, the biggest predictor of a robbery is a previous robbery," he said "Unless there are modifications, they continue to attract robberies."

Robberies at the Honey Bear store along Route 356 in Allegheny Township resulted in store modifications.

"Camera enhancement was done, and employees were encouraged to call us. So far we haven't had other problems, knock on wood," said township police Chief John Fontaine.

Clarke and Scott said Sunoco and other stores are wise to use drop safes so little cash is in the register. The store also has a fence around the property to limit where robbers can go.

Scott said some stores encourage police to "drop by, have a coffee and plug in their laptops to write their reports."

Stores need to "minimize the reward for robbers and maximize the risk," Leonard added.

Among the NACS suggestions is removing posters from the store windows.

The posters tell shoppers about bargains, but make it difficult to see inside, Leonard said.

"You don't want to be like a submarine with periscope vision," Leonard said. "You want the bad guys to know that everyone can see what's going on inside."

Doutt said police caught most of the Sunoco robbers, but as Tuesday's robbery shows, people still try to find fast money.

"That's why we're still worried about safety," he said.

Additional Information:

Store robberies by the numbers

According to FBI statistics, convenience store robberies account for about six percent of all robberies year after year. About $581 million was taken in all robberies in 2008. The national average loss per robbery was $1,315.

Guns were used in about 44 percent of all robberies in 2008 and strong-arm robberies accounted for about 40 percent.

Five of the Sunoco robberies were done by people showing guns, another man claimed to have something in his pocket, and one was a strong-arm robbery.

Source: FBI and Arnold police

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