Seattle’s bus and rail lines are attracting robbers



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Posted on October 11, 2010 at 10:26 PM

Updated Tuesday, Oct 12 at 3:49 PM

SEATTLE - Mass transit delivers people all over Seattle. Police say it also delivers a pool of potential victims to criminals.

Almaz says she and her young son had just exited a bus on Martin Luther King Jr. Way in Seattle when she saw an angry looking man walking towards them. Almaz says she tried to move out of the way, but the man attacked her and grabbed her gold necklace.

Note: We are not using the full names of victims.

“First he take my hand back,” Almaz says. “He jump on my neck and he throw my baby.”

Almaz says as she was trying to fight off her attacker he pushed her son into the busy street. Almaz says she let go of the necklace to retrieve her son.

“It’s big gold - 21 carat,” she says.  

The attack happened on Aug. 30 at about 4:30 in the afternoon and Almaz says she injured her neck and shoulder in the struggle.

One necklace robbery wouldn't be a big deal. But police say it's happening over and over, especially along transit routes. It's what police call a pattern case.

The victims are often elderly and the suspects are in their late teens or early 20s.

There have been 25 “necklace grabs” in Seattle’s south end since July. But if you go back a year and add in purse snatches, there’s a more disturbing trend - 100 cases, with three quarters of them happening to people on buses or trains or near their stops.                       

Brad Craig is lead detective on the case and briefs his squad for a stakeout.

“Everybody’s got a briefing packet,” says Craig, “We’re going to stay out until about six o’clock."

Craig says the robbers tend to target elderly Asian females.  He’s hoping that with enough detectives cruising the MLK corridor, they’ll catch a robbery in progress.

“Have you seen a spike since light rail came in here?” we asked. “Yes we have, definitely,” says Craig. “It’s because you have a larger pool of potential victims in one place,” he says. “A lot of times they’re going from the light rail station to their home or another area in the neighborhood.”

The detectives strike out on their stakeout, but over the next several weeks, as the robberies increase, so do the arrests.

Detectives bring in a 23-year-old man who is suspected of grabbing a necklace off an elderly woman walking near a major bus route.

"It's terrible,” Craig says. I mean this lady's 92 years old. She’s probably 4 foot 6 inches tall, very vulnerable. She's probably the weakest we have in society."

The robber grabbed her by the throat and threw her to the ground. Fortunately, there's a witness who is willing to identify the suspect for police.  

“If that had been my grandmother, I would appreciate it if someone would come forward,” said Joseph.

"Go ahead; circle your selection,” Detective Craig tells Joseph. The identification will help police charge the suspect with two robberies, both necklace grabs.

There’s also a break in the case involving the attack on Almaz near the bus stop on Martin Luther King Jr. Way.   An 18-year-old is arrested by a patrol officer inside a fast food restaurant where he allegedly tried to ditch the necklace.

“This was in the McDonald’s bathroom trash can where we found him,” says the officer, showing a heavy gold necklace to Detective Craig.

It's progress, but Det. Craig has a stack of unsolved cases. If it seems endless, there’s inspiration just outside the window above his desk on the 7th floor of SPD Headquarters. It’s the King County Jail, where he's sent hundreds of criminals during his 11 years in the robbery unit.

“We all have, yeah, we do as a unit put quite a few (there),” he said. “It’s very rewarding.”

Metro says its transit police are doing emphasis patrols with SPD in response to the robberies and as a result, the number of incidents is declining.

Sound Transit told us they also have armed officers patrolling the rail line, and the officers are doing a great of job of keeping riders safe.

Sound Transit says only nine of the 79 transit robberies were associated with Link Light Rail.