Restaurant robberies? What restaurant robberies? How soon we forget.
Less than two months ago, Oakland, Berkeley and Emeryville were struck by a rash of takeover-style robberies that targeted eateries both elegant and plain. They hit the flatlands and the hills.
Ron Dellums, who knows a thing or two about both altitudes, did not descend in his Super Mayor costume with cape flapping to save Oakland, in which six of the eight robberies occurred.
As the robbery spree waned, Dellums called an April 23 meeting for merchants, city officials and police to make running a business safer. Bad timing: The mayor was in South Africa, leaving his public safety czarina, Lenore Anderson, to pick up the slack, which seemed to upset residents more than the crimes. (Anderson is on her way to a job in San Francisco at the end of this month.)
"He's our mayor. We voted for him," said Joseph Radwan, whose family owns the Red Boy Pizza in the Oakmore District, the first of the restaurants to be hit during the spree.
Being robbed just eight days after opening on March 31 was a "big slap in the face," Radwan said, especially because attention from the city and police wasn't exactly overwhelming, so to speak.
Robberies happen all the time, Radwan said, "We just didn't believe it would happen to us so soon."
Radwan and his mother, Antoinette Radwan, were at the meeting when the three parties drew up a checklist of nine strategies, ranging from crime prevention training for merchants and better lighting to improved communication with police, whose numbers (about 750 now) were supposed to increase just as fast as the department could manage it.
The magic police department staffing number is 803, which the mayor's office said is on target to being reached by the end of the year.
In the meantime, Oakland police have been awesome, Radwan said. They are in sight evenings and have helped train employees about what to do in the case of another robbery. Police gave them a videotape, which has the unfortunate title of "How To be Robbed."
Another takeover is an unlikely happening, Radwan said, since the restaurant is now geared up with outside lights, external motion cameras that can make out a license plate across the street, and slick security cameras inside that can capture even a person's eye color.
"As soon as you put your hand on the door outside, you're on camera," he said.
The thought is little creepy, but assuring.
There was no "rhyme or reason" why the robbers targeted the restaurants they did, said Capt. Rick Orozco, whose district (from Lake Merritt to High Street) is where most of the robberies occurred.
Red Boy Pizza is a comfortable kind of place nestled above the Glenview District and is surrounded by businesses that are likely to close about 5 p.m. The Rainbow Cafe faces busy International Boulevard. Two officers had a view of the Vietnamese diner from their seats at the Pho Hao Lao restaurant across the street. The Happy Garden is in the Laurel District, and the Milano Ristorante is on Grand Avenue.
"It was all about the money," Orozco said of the motive for the robberies. The bandits got away with as much as $1,000 in one incident.
The captain said he deploys officers according to where crime is happening, violent crimes being the No. 1 priority. In other words, the officers go where the next crimes likely will happen.
"There is no sense to have officers where there is no crime," he said.
Predictably, the city's name was besmirched ... a little bit more, although the number of armed robberies recorded by police in May hadn't changed in 12 months.
"Should people fear to go to a restaurant?" he asked rhetorically. "Absolutely not," was the answer.
The armed robberies were frightening, especially watching the videotape taken during the Milano robbery that was piped over Web sites and TV channels.
Business was dented in some places, but many patrons didn't miss a beat as the series of unusual robberies ended.
A visiting Texan with a Dirty Harry "make my day, punk" attitude looked around the room at a restaurant before two suspects were arrested, and said there were enough grown men in the room to take a robber, even an armed one.
If only, the Texan added, he had a can of soda, his self-defense arsenal would be complete.
That's all for now, ladies and gentlemen. But if you have a cool shindig, e-mail me at email@example.com or visit the Night Owl blog at www.ibabuzz.com/nightowl for more events and oddities.