It appears that apartment complexes are the fashionable scene for armed robbery in 2008, as numerous brazen hold-ups have been committed in such locations in Tulsa since the New Year began.
"Seemingly, that's the flavor of the month," said Officer Leland Ashley, spokesman for the Tulsa Police Department.
"It appears to me now that the bandits are hitting more apartment complexes," he added.
Of the 55 (and counting) armed robberies to occur in the month of January so far, more than half have been at apartment complexes, and the vast majority of those have been in parking lots.
As apartment dwellers walk from their car to their home, the common modus operandi is for two or more gun-wielding hooligans to ambush them and demand the goods before fleeing the scene, either by foot or motor vehicle.
"On their way to their apartments, these guys are just rushing them," Ashley said.
"Quite a few appear to be group robberies," he added.
For instance, on January 15, a victim at the Westminster Apartments at the 7300-block of E. 48th St. told officers he had been surrounded by seven armed black males who demanded his keys and wallet, then kicked him around for good measure before making off with his stuff.
Another incident occurred on January 10 at the Eagle Point Apartments at 5700 E. 71st St.
A female victim said she had been attacked by two males who knocked her to the ground and kicked her several times in the head before making off with her purse.
Within 40 minutes that same night, a seemingly identical scenario took place at an apartment complex at 2400 E. 94th St.: a female victim was attacked by two males who stole her purse.
She described them as black teenagers, and another witness said they drove away in a black Honda Accord.
Not all are perpetrated by groups, though.
One victim told police he and a friend had been followed from the parking lot of his apartment at the 7600-block of E. 21st St. to a nearby convenience store. The man who followed them stayed outside the store, but watched them through the window.
When they exited the store, the man asked them for a cigar.
Then he brandished a silver semi-automatic pistol when the victim refused, pointing it at his head and demanding money.
After the victim handed him a wad of cash, he ran off and got into the passenger side of a white, two-door Pontiac Grand Am.
He was described as a black male, about 6'2" and "skinny."
Not all of the robberies occur in parking lots, and not all are necessarily at apartment complexes.
One robber didn't want to wait for a hapless victim to cross his path in the parking lot of a motel at the 4700-block of S. Yale Ave. On the night of January 16, he knocked on a door and then forced his way into the room, brandishing what the victim described as a "big white cowboy gun" (whatever that means).
He pistol-whipped the victim before making off with his personal effects.
The attacker was described as a white male, 5'7" and 160 lbs., and he reportedly drove away in a black Toyota RAV-4.
Other than the common modus operandi, Ashley said there is no discernible pattern to the muggings.
"They're happening in every part of town," he said.
"We're having more of these than convenience store robberies," Ashley added, noting that convenience stores are the traditional hold-up targets-of-choice, but the recent apartment complex parking lot muggings seem to be bucking that trend.
The crimefighter did not point to this as a motivating factor in the new trend in thuggery, but said a notable difference between the apartment muggings and the traditionally more common convenience store robberies is that video footage of the robberies usually helps investigations in the latter, while most apartment complexes don't have surveillance cameras in their parking lots.
As a result, police have to rely solely on eyewitness testimony for their investigations, which isn't always of much help.
"'Black hoody with T-shirt' isn't a lot to go on for a description," Ashley said, explaining that victims' descriptions of perpetrators are often vague and unspecific, and of little if any use.
He advises potential victims to give robbers what they want, but to try to have the presence of mind to get particulars about attackers.
"Try to get a good facial description," Ashley said.
"Look for earrings, a goatee, scars, tattoos, complexion--anything that will help us identify the attacker," he said.
But, the best way to go is to try to avoid being a victim in the first place.
"The best way for a person to avoid being a victim is to be aware of your surroundings," advised Ashley.
"A lot of times, people will see something that doesn't belong, like two or three subjects in the area that they haven't seen before," he added.
Under such circumstances, he said, "Never hesitate to give us a call. They might have a legitimate reason for being there, but sometimes they don't."
He also advised, "Walk with confidence--walk like you mean business."
Ashley said most hoodlums want easy targets, and won't bother with someone if they look like they'll be more trouble than it's worth.
UTW asked him if he'd advise that people carry pepper spray, or some other means of self-defense, as a deterrent to potential attackers, and as a way to remind a person to be aware of their surroundings. Also, of course, if someone wants to steal your stuff, it might be fun to spray them in the face with pepper spray.
"That's a personal choice, like a conceal-carry permit," he answered.
Ashley wouldn't state for the record that it's a good idea, but he also didn't say it was a bad idea.
He did reiterate, though, that he advises victims not to fight back.
"Just give them what they want. It isn't worth getting shot over," he said.
The Tulsa police have arrested 17 people so far for armed robbery this year, eight of whom were for robberies that occurred in apartment parking lots.
"It's a possibility that they're responsible for a lot of them," Ashley said, but he also pointed out that the robberies have continued even after those eight were taken off the streets.
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