Police beef up patrols

A Cornersburg pharmacist says he's never seen so many robberies.
YOUNGSTOWN -- Cornersburg, gateway to the suburbs, hasn't turned out to be the best place for a holdup.
Police Chief Jimmy Hughes said those who do choose to rob in Cornersburg "must be stupid" because you can't miss the police presence. The chief said he's had extra patrols -- officers mostly working overtime, some in cars, some walking -- on and off since last October.
"We went door-to-door to let the businesses know," the chief said. "People appreciate seeing the police, and the response time [to calls] has been excellent."
He credits good witnesses and the extra patrols for "almost immediate arrests" following certain crimes. The patrols will continue for an indefinite period, he said.
There's been an uptick in armed robberies in Cornersburg within a short amount of time, and that has drawn attention to the area, said Capt. Kenneth Centorame, chief of detectives. The increase doesn't mean the area is under siege, he said.
"The opportunity has always been there. Maybe some [robbers] are starting to realize that," he said.
Centorame said Cornersburg likely has the largest concentration of retail businesses in the city. It may appear to be "target rich" to armed robbers, he said.
At Canfield and Meridian roads on the city's far West Side, Cornersburg offers a post office, hair salons, pizza shops, drug and grocery stores, movie rentals, gas stations, banks, specialty stores, restaurants, bars and much more. Retail businesses that lie west and south of Canfield and Meridian roads are outside the city limits in Austintown or Canfield.
Some Vindy.com readers posting their thoughts about Cornersburg have referred to recent holdups as a "crime spree."
Vindicator files show these armed robberies in Cornersburg since June 2006:
* Jan. 16, 2007: Family Discount Drugs, 3307 Canfield Road. Jeffrey D. Caulton, 18, of Norwood Avenue and Eric Talbot, aka Eric Williams, 17, of Megan Circle were charged with the crime. They are suspects in similar robberies in Youngstown and Boardman, Centorame said.
* In December: Charter One Bank, 3525 Canfield Road. Thomas A. Phelan, 50, of Austintown was charged with the crime and captured in Knoxville, Tenn., where police said he robbed a credit union.
* In October: Margaret Troll, 78, of Austintown had her face slashed with a box cutter and her car and purse taken from the parking lot of Giant Eagle on Canfield Road. Arthur G. Williams, 49, of Summer Street was caught within 15 minutes and charged with kidnapping, aggravated robbery and fleeing police.
* In June: Pizza Joe's, Cornersburg Pizza and East of Chicago Pizza, all on Canfield Road. John A. Jenkins, 19, of Neosho Road was charged with the crimes.
Centorame said commercial robberies are generally crimes of opportunity and committed without much planning. The objective is to get in and get out within a minute or two.
He believes the motive is likely a drug user's desire to sustain a habit.
Sometimes, as with the robbery last week of Family Discount Drugs, the motive may have been to get drugs to sell or use -- or both, he said. Reports show more than 1,600 OxyContin pills and other narcotics were taken, along with 350 from the register.
"If the objective was money, they could have gone next door to the bank, yet they chose the drugstore," Centorame said. "Money wasn't the primary reason."
Dan Ronci, pharmacist at Family Discount Drugs, said the business wasn't robbed because it's in Cornersburg. He said the store was targeted for the drugs, as were other pharmacies in Youngstown and Boardman.
"I've been here 20 years and never seen this many robberies," Ronci said. "We've been broken into at night, but never had a daylight robbery."
The pharmacist said the suspects' young age bothers him. He wonders how much time they'll get in prison if convicted. He also believes young men are more unpredictable with guns.
Regardless of age, "there's not a lot you can do" when a robber has a gun. You just hope nobody gets hurt," Ronci said. He added that his employees know not to confront robbers.
He said the store has surveillance cameras, but more will be installed outside. He's also looking at other ways to enhance security and will follow suggestions made by a detective.
Banks, because they have more security than other businesses, are considered "target hard," Centorame said. Banks still experience holdups, but overt security makes them less appealing to robbers, he said.
To make small retail businesses target hard takes a certain amount of creativity, he said. A good example, he said, is the sign familiar to bus riders: "Drivers carry only 25."
He said well-lighted parking lots, ad-free windows and placing cash registers near the front door is good. It allows passers-by to see if the place is being robbed. The drawback to having registers near the door, though, is the "grab and run" -- where a customer-thief grabs cash from an open register and runs, he said.
Surveillance cameras -- inside and outside -- are the best tools in solving crimes at retail businesses, Centorame said. Alarm buttons, too, allow for quick police response.
He said store employees, if confronted with two or three armed robbers, should concentrate on one for identification purposes. He said police can't do the job alone, and detailed descriptions of suspects, getaway cars and direction of travel help solve crimes.

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