City sees spike in robberies

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

In recent months there has been a spike in robberies in Clovis, bringing the number of cases for the year so far, with more than three months remaining, to about the same as the total for 2005, according to police.

Summer months have brought on the majority of the cases being investigated by police, according to Lt. Jim Schoeffel of the Clovis Police Department.

Clovis has experienced a bank robbery and almost weekly convenience-store robberies this summer, according to police records.

From June to Wednesday, there had been 20 robbery reports — double the amount during the same period last year, police records show.

Machetes, a fake bomb, guns — even a hammer and wrench — have been used as weapons, and the suspects have shown the same diversity in gender, ethnicity and age — women and men; Caucasians, Hispanics, blacks — all are represented among those sought for the recent robberies, police records show.

In preliminary annual crime data released in June by the FBI, robberies increased nationally by 4.5 percent in 2005. The rise is part of an overall national violent crime increase of more than 2 percent.

Clovis Police haven’t identified a reason for the increase.

Most cases do not appear to be connected or part of an organized crime spree, Schoeffel said; there are just more than past years.

The desperation of some of the criminals and element of opportunity in some of the crimes lead police to believe often the robberies are committed to support drug habits or because of drug use.

“I hate to fall back on drugs, but that’s normally what we’re looking at a lot of the time,” Schoeffel said. “They are crimes of opportunity — somebody sees an empty store or somebody leaving a store with a moneybag. Some have some degree of planning. You can’t just kind of clump them all together. To some extent, it’s going to be drug related, from (our) past experience,” he said.

Detective Dan Aguilar agreed. The 17-year Clovis police force veteran believes it is often drugs that motivate robberies.

“Drugs are the root of 90 percent of crime in my opinion,” he said. “A normal, sober, clear-minded person really doesn’t do something like that because it’s serious and they know it’s serious. I really do think they know that they’re not going to get a lot, but it’s going to be enough to get drugs,” he explained.

In many of the recent cases, the suspects got away with little or no money, Aguilar said. With the convenience-store robberies, they probably knew going in there wouldn’t be much money there at night because most stores don’t keep large amounts of cash on hand, he said.

Over the years, the number of robberies has ebbed, Aguilar said.

Although many of the robberies have occurred in places where safety measures already exist — surveillance cameras, adequate lighting — Schoeffel said citizens and businesses should continue to observe safety practices.

Portales, just 20 minutes south of Clovis, has had few robberies this year, according to Capt. Lonnie Berry of the Portales Police Department.

“We really haven’t had too many robberies. We had one home invasion in the last three months. Overall, we’ve been pretty low — there’s nothing that shows us to be spiking in robberies at all,” Berry said.

The high frequency of Clovis robberies in recent months has brought the cases to the forefront, Aguilar said.

The last reported Clovis robbery was Sept. 5.

Robbery cases filed per year:
• 2004 — 26
• 2005 — 34
• 2006 — 33*
* — year-to-date

Source: Clovis Police Department records

Some recent Clovis robberies:
• An assailant outside an Allsup’s on South Prince Street knocked down a clerk on Sept. 5 and stole the store’s moneybag the clerk was taking to deposit.
• K’s Oriental Food Store was robbed at gunpoint Aug. 24. The suspect fired his weapon once. No one was injured. Frank Lasky, 21, was arrested Sept. 6 and charged with robbery, according to police.
• Police said a woman attempted to rob two convenience stores Aug. 19 with a machete. The attempts occurred within minutes of each other. Clerks at both stores refused the woman’s demands and she fled.
• A woman sitting in her car at North Plains Mall eating lunch July 19 told police a man came to her window, pressed a gun to the back of her neck and demanded her purse.
• Sam Eaton, 23, was arrested July 17 and charged with robbery after two Allsup’s stores were robbed at knifepoint three times in one weekend.
• The New Mexico Bank and Trust located in the Hilltop Shopping Plaza was robbed July 14 by a man who said he had a bomb and left the device on the counter before fleeing with an undisclosed amount of money. Police said there have been no new developments, and the investigation is ongoing.
• A woman wearing all black and a ski mask robbed three Allsup’s stores June 24, using a sledgehammer, a wrench and a machete.

Source: Clovis Police reports and records