Police warn public of string of ATM smash-and-grab robberies

Police warn public of string of ATM smash-and-grab robberies

The Richmond Police Department is warning residents to be alert following a series of smash-and-grab robberies targeting people who have withdrawn cash from ATMs.

Sofia Ayala, a crime analysis technician with the Richmond Police Department, said the department has seen an increase in robberies, specifically with a new trend where robberies occur near banks along the Macdonald Avenue corridor.

“There are multiple banks in that area. We have Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Mechanics Bank Citibank,” Ayala said at Wednesday’s Crime Prevention Meeting, adding robberies increased 16 percent in 2023 compared to 2022.

Richmond Detective Brandon Hodges said those committing smash-and-grab robberies often watch people at ATMs, banks, or locations where people are pulling out large amounts of money.

“A lot of times, they are watching them and following them. When that person leaves their vehicle, they will smash out the window and take whatever belongings they have to get the money,” Hodges said.

Hodges says there appear to be several different groups committing these similar crimes not just in Richmond but all over the Bay Area. Some perpetrators follow victims to their homes and rob them in their driveways. Others target individuals as soon as they withdraw money. In some cases, criminals may even wait until the victim leaves their vehicle before making their move.

The severity of the crime and the associated punishment can vary depending on the circumstances. When a thief breaks into a vehicle while the owner is absent, it is classified as theft or auto burglary. When someone robs a person who is in fear for their safety, it is classified as a violent felony robbery.

The amount taken in these robberies varies, according to police, from $20-40 but has been as high as $10,000.

“The sheriff’s office just had one this week where the victim was followed from a bank, and then in traffic in broad daylight, the suspects who were following them ran up at a light, smashed out the window, and took the purse and the money,” Hodges said. “They are getting brazen and doing it almost anywhere.”

Many of these crimes involve two or more people working together, Hodges said, most of the time driving vehicles without license plates.

“So if you roll into a bank parking lot and you see what you determine to be a suspicious vehicle or one that is weird and has no plates on it, maybe drive out or don’t go there,” Hodges said.

According to Hodges, the best defense is to be aware of your surroundings and people watching you and obscuring their identity.

“People watching you is the biggest thing,” Hodges said. “There are cameras everywhere, so a lot of the time, these suspects are covering their faces.”

Hodges said he is currently investigating a robbery where two victims pulled into a bank. In the video surveillance footage, a suspect can be clearly seen watching the victims from a distance while texting on his phone. At one point, the suspect can be seen pacing near the ATM while observing them.

“The two victims are over at the other ATM, not paying attention at all,” Hodges said. “They withdraw their money and go to their vehicle, then they drive off, and he follows them. He robs them at gunpoint at another bank.”

Police say to call 911 if you notice a vehicle following you, drive to the police department, or to a safe public space where you can get help.

“Maybe that will divert that suspect from actually targeting you, especially when you are going home. Just make sure you are paying attention because you don’t want the suspects to know where you live,” Hodges said.

Crime Prevention Manager Michelle Milam said people must be mindful, especially when getting in and out of their cars because that is a time when you are vulnerable.

“When you are in your car, you think you are in a private space, but you are not in a private space because you have windows. Someone can see inside and see what you are doing,” Milam said.

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