Jen Keller, 20, remembers the day when a man came in the back door of the Taco John’s restaurant on north Monroe Street where she was working.
He pointed a gun at her and demanded money.
“I calmly told him ‘I’m very sorry, but I can’t get in the safe.’ He was very nervous and he ran.”
More than once a year, however, one of the four Taco John’s restaurants in Spokane are robbed, according to owner Bruce Walsh. Four robberies alone have occurred since July 1994.
Saturday morning, 14 employees gathered to hear methods for preventing future robberies and better ways to describe suspects to police.
The presentation was organized by the community policing organization for the Nevada-Lidgerwood neighborhood. It featured Sandy Richards, crime prevention specialist for the Spokane Police Department.
Deborah Wittwer, president of Neva-Wood COPS, said she’s been concerned about the number of robberies and the safety of employees because her daughter used to work at a Taco John’s.
“We need to get the businesses more involved in community policing,” she said. “With Christmas coming, it (crime) is going to start up again. That’s when the bad-tooth bandit got started - at Christmas-time.”
One man, Aaron Wayne Coats was eventually apprehended and considered a suspect in 31 holdups last year after clerks described him as having rotten teeth.
The Saturday seminar offered both tips and a primer on crime in Spokane.
While most crimes have decreased, armed robberies are up, said Richards.
The reason? It’s often a lot easier getting money from a small convenience store or restaurant than breaking into a car or home and selling stolen merchandise.
And the robberies are no longer the bastion of young men - but also women, kids and couples. And they’re happening more during the day, Richards said.
Among the tips Richards offered:
Like clerks at a retail clothing store, fast-food employees should engage customers in conversations. Potential robberies will be deterred when victims know something about their speech and voice. “If you say, ‘Gee, I like your jacket,’ you’ve got them. They hate that,” Richards said.
Write down descriptions of suspicious people and license plate numbers of suspicious vehicles.
Communicate between shifts and share information about people who may have wandered into the restaurant and stared into corners looking for security cameras, used the bathroom or asked for change.
Don’t dispose of garbage alone after dark, because that’s how two Spokane robberies occurred last month, Richards said.
The most useful tip, according to Rita Serghini, 20, an employee at the Taco John’s on West Francis Avenue for five years, was to look at shoes.
While robbers can quickly take off a shirt or change their pants, they often don’t think of changing shoes after a heist.
“Now I know all the little things we can do,” said Serghini.