Jan 6, 2014 7:11 PM by April Hansen, KSBY

SMPD investigating a series of armed robberies

The Santa Maria Police Department is investigating a rash of armed robberies. Officers say the robberies have happened at local businesses in the past two weeks.

The first took place on December 22 at Jersey Mike's Subs on Bradley Road. Six days later, a robbery occurred at the Battle's Mini Mart on McClelland Street. Then on Sunday night around 9:45 p.m., the El Ranchero Liquor Store on East Main Street was robbed.

Police believe the same man robbed both El Ranchero Liquor Store and the Battle's Mini Mart.

They say a six-foot tall white man wearing a mask and long sleeves walked into the store, pointed a gun at the clerk and demanded money. Police say he left with some cash and got into a car that was waiting outside.

With robbers on the loose, police say there are some things business owners can do to try to protect themselves from being a target.

"It's kind of scary because we could have stayed opened until 10:00 and it could have been us," said local shop owner Juan Bonia.

Bonia has owned his grocery store at La Joya Plaza for years. He says he never thought one of his neighbors would be robbed.

"Because there are always a lot of us here and the parking lot is crazy, but if everyone is closed with one business open it's going to be an easy target," said Bonia.

He says he isn't worried because he has taken steps to make sure his store is secure.

"We have cameras recording what is going on and we never have just one employee, and we never close by ourselves. There are always a minimum of four people closing at night," said Bonia.

But police say robbers choose targets that look vulnerable.

"It's usually later at night when it's dark on a Saturday or Sunday, and it's typically a ma and pop type store," said Lt. Kim Graham, Santa Maria Police Department.

Graham says often times robbers have been in the store before.

"Looking around to see if it is has one clerk or many clerks and seeing the layout," she said.

She says the best defense is smart security.

"I suggest a good video system to capture these people. I suggest a drop cash box if they can where the money can't be taken out, with some signage in the window that says we don't have cash," said Lt. Graham.

Bonia says his neighbors are his best security.

"I know that we have a lot of businesses here so it's really hard to rob this whole plaza," said Bonia.

Lt. Graham says if you are ever approached by someone with a gun demanding money always give it to them.

They have not made any arrests for any of these three robberies.

Police have a very limited description of the gunman who robbed the Jersey Mike's shop.

Anyone with information is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 877-800-9100.



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