89.3 F
San Fernando
Tuesday, Jun 6, 2023

Review of Procedures Pushed at Restaurant Meeting

The dark-clothed figure creeps in the hallway of a restaurant, the woman working the register unaware of his presence. With her back turned the man slides up and grabs the employee, pushing her to the ground and taking money from the register before making his escape out the door. “Is this for real?” asked Jeff King, chairman of a chain of seafood restaurants with a location in Calabasas. Yes, the Los Angeles Police tell King and other restaurant owners gathered on Dec. 11 in the community room at the West Valley Police Station in Reseda. Police officials believe the man shown in the video is one of the Ski Mask Bandits that has preyed on San Fernando Valley eateries for over two years. While the video was filmed at a restaurant outside the Valley, it was shown to give an idea of how the robbers operate and they continue to hit restaurants even though their last known Valley robbery was in August, Ca Del Sole, near Universal Studios Hollywood. LAPD Deputy Chief Michel Moore described the restaurant robbers as pervasive, persistent and ever present. “They are looking at your business and looking for opportunities,” said Moore, the department’s top cop for the Valley. The California Restaurant Association organized the meeting between restaurant owners and the police to provide an update on the department’s investigation and give tips on how the owners can more safely operate their businesses. Matt Epstein, the owner of Vitello’s Italian Ristorante in Studio City, left the meeting with notes about the safety advice offered by the police. Changes have been made in employee behavior to keep them safer, said Epstein, a Sherman Oaks real estate broker who bought the restaurant last year. “Our guys don’t go out the back door unaccompanied,” Epstein said. “They pay much more attention.” Police, however, outnumbered business people at the meeting, at which the captains of the six police districts making up the Valley were present. Councilman Dennis Zine, Councilwoman Wendy Greuel, and State Assemblyman Lloyd Levine also attended. The rash of restaurant robberies at both fast food joints and fancy sit down establishments began in the summer of 2004, often taking place at closing time. While the department made arrests in other cases the Rackaround Bandit believed responsible for 25 robberies and the Valley Knife Bandit believed to be behind 18 robberies the Ski Mask Bandits and the El Torito Bandit (30 robberies, including seven outside the city) remain at large. While witnesses say the Ski Mask Bandits are calm, they have resorted to violence in at least one case, when the robbers shot dead a young man who tried to flee during the May 2005 robbery of a Northridge Thai restaurant, police said. Problematic to the investigation is the bandits wear masks covering their faces and clothing covering up their skin so detailed descriptions are difficult. While the department and business community can partner up to prevent robberies good business practice dictates that owners make their own investment, Moore said. A silent alarm system and digital surveillance cameras placed behind a cash register were among the precautionary tips offered by the department. Restaurants should also review their opening and closing procedures to find ways to make the business less vulnerable. An owner of a North Hollywood restaurant identifying himself only as Dale said he made changes courtesy of the L.A. Department of Water and Power who put brighter lights on their poles in the back of the building. “Now my place is lit up like daylight,” the owner said. “Graffiti over the last two months has gone down.” His restaurant was the scene of a robbery two months ago although it was not the work of the Ski Mask Bandits, Dale said. Told about the police meeting by the owner of another restaurant, Dale said he came with a lot of venom because the robbery had been violent, resulting in cash taken from a safe and personal items taken from employees. “I really think it would be better if there were more of (these meetings),” Dale said. “The Valley is a big place with hundreds of businesses and the bad guys feel we are lambs for the slaughter.”

Featured Articles

Related Articles