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GPD training restaurant employees to prevent more robberies

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GREENVILLE, N.C. - A new police initiative in Greenville is focusing on training restaurant employees to be safer on the job in the midst of an uptick in armed robberies. 

The city has had about one armed robbery a month at restaurants since September. Plus, between Dec. 29 and Jan. 19, three food delivery drivers were robbed.

Now police are getting proactive to stop the trend. Call it Delivery Driver Survival 101. 

"The more aware you are of your surroundings, the safer you'll be," Lt. David Bowen tells a group of employees from Marabella Old World Pizza in Greenville. “If you feel your life is endangered and you can defend yourself, then do so."

Lt. Bowen explores every risky scenario they could encounter on the job, then offers safety strategies on how to handle them. He advises them to flag problem neighborhoods, ask callers for their full name, and limit the amount of cash you carry.

If an address is dark or appears vacant, he says don't get out of the car. Most importantly, listen to your gut.

"If people look suspicious, every one of you have an innate ability to recognize when somebody's doing something they're not supposed to do,” he says to the group.

Delivery driver Michael Stowe says it's a good reminder in a busy job where safety can sometimes become an afterthought.
"You hardly really ever take it into consideration that maybe this is a set-up,” he says. "We travel alone. Eight out of 10 don't carry firearms when they deliver. So we're pretty much an easy target to some people."

An easy target police hope to make more difficult with the right training.

""We're always there as a response, but this also gives us a chance to be there before something happens,” Lt. Bowen says.

Officers are also offering to evaluate restaurant layouts and internal policies to determine weaknesses in security. So far, they've visited 2/3 of all restaurants in Greenville that are open late or make deliveries.

--- Original Story ---
Armed robberies at fast food restaurants are on the rise, especially in Greenville where 9 On Your Side has reported about one a month since September.

We’re taking notice of the crime trend the same week a judge sentenced three men to more than 30 years in prison for a string of armed robberies that happened in 2011-2012. Trevin Gibson, Michael Gibson and DeShaun Spruill were linked to 36 armed robberies at KFC, Subway, Burger King, McDonalds, Popeye’s and various Bojangles restaurants across Eastern North Carolina.

Nineteen of those armed robberies happened in Greenville, which put people in the community on high alert.

"They were terrorized to come out and go to these different businesses for fear that they would be inside one of these businesses when one of these robberies took place,” recalls Jeff Baxter, a major crimes detective with the Greenville Police Department who worked with various other local, state and federal agencies to investigate those cases.

As for the three men’s lengthy sentences, Baxter says, “That sends a message to the public that those out there that engage in this type of behavior, that it's not going to be tolerated."

Now Baxter says he's hot on the trail of robbers responsible for more recent hold-ups at places like Zaxbys, Jimmy Johns, KFC, Bojangles, CiCi’s Pizza and Domino's.

"We're going to be coming after those people," Baxter says.

But it won't be your typical arrest. GPD is now sending in its SWAT team to bring down suspects like Markeith Wilson, who they believe robbed Popeye’s a few weeks ago.

Officers are also training every restaurant staff across the city that's open late nights or makes deliveries to ensure they're not making themselves an easy target.

“It looks at lighting, operating systems, the way they take the trash out, the way they interact within the store,” Police Chief Hassan Aden explains.

He says they’re also using crime analysis data to predict where the next robbery might happen, and it's there he's planting plain-clothed, heavily-armed officers.

"You should really rethink it,” is his message to would-be robbers. “We're ready, we're waiting for you and we will track you down and prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law."

So what should you do if you're eating inside one of these restaurants with your family and a robber comes in?

Chief Aden says it's best to avoid engaging the robber and instead be a good witness by memorizing details about their height, clothes and weapons – all clues that will help police track them down.

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