OAKLAND -- An Oakland Tribune photographer on assignment Monday afternoon was robbed at gunpoint of her laptop and camera equipment, the sixth such incident involving a member of the media in the past six weeks, police said.
Laura Oda, a photographer for the Bay Area News Group for 22 years, had just finished photographing a mural on San Pablo Avenue, between 35th and 36th streets, and walked back to her vehicle, parked at the corner of 36th Street, when a man with a gun grabbed two cameras off her shoulder, and another man swiped her camera bag and laptop from the back of the car.
Oda was not injured.
This is the second time in recent weeks that news crews have been robbed at gunpoint at or near the San Pablo Avenue mural site, police said.
On the morning of June 18, two photographers at the mural had two cameras and a tripod stolen while they were setting up to photograph the painters at work.
"Some of the painters ran after (the suspect), and (one suspect) pulled a gun. They backed off, and the guys left," said Katie Barretta, spokeswoman for the nonprofit Attitudinal Healing Connection, which is organizing the mural. No one was injured. Police don't know if the June 18 incident is linked to the armed robbery Monday.
But one thing is certain: News crews have been robbed more times in the past six weeks than in recent history, sounding an alarm of caution among the Bay Area press.
"(Photographers) are on the front line, but we have to do our jobs,' said Paul Sakuma, a photographer with The Associated Press and president of the San Francisco Bay Area Press Photographers Association. "When photographers go to Oakland, they are watching their backs a lot more than they used to. ... Oakland is a dangerous place."
At 9:45 p.m. last Thursday, a KTVU Channel 2 news crew doing a live shoot in the 5700 block of Redwood Road in the Oakland hills was robbed. The reporter was sitting in the front of the news van when a suspect opened the door, reached in and stole her laptop and a briefcase off her lap. Police said a suspect simulated a gun in his waistband and stole the cameraman's equipment, which was near the van. The names of the victims were not available.
In mid-May, NBC television news reporter Jodi Hernandez and her cameraman, Rich Goudeau, were on San Pablo Avenue, at 21st Street, doing a story on state budget cuts when a man ran up to the photographer from behind and swiped a TV camera and tripod before jumping into a car.
The daylight theft came about a month after an NBC van, parked in an Oakport Street commercial building parking lot was broken into, and a computer and other equipment were stolen. Police arrested three people suspected of at least a dozen vehicle burglaries, including the NBC van, between Interstate 880 and Doolittle Drive in early April.
The danger to news crews exists outside Oakland, too.
In early May, an ABC television news reporter working on a fire story in San Francisco had a laptop computer stolen from the news van while a photographer was inside.
Oakland police are offering as much as $5,000 for information leading to the arrest of the suspect or suspects in each robbery. Anyone with information is asked to call police at 510-238-3326.
Staff writers Thomas Peele, Harry Harris and Anna Gallegos contributed to this report.