That fast -- and profitable -- turnaround is why
Ringleaders scout out the store, put together loosely associated crews and send them in with guns and bags, said
"They'll take money if it's readily available, but their main target is the phones," McClees said. "These are well-studied robberies. It's not the impulsive robberies that you see with someone who has a gun and the opportunity presents itself."
McClees said that the phones, which are electronically locked until they are sold, can be unlocked or "hacked" by computer programmers for use with networks overseas.
"I'm told there are bells and whistles on phones sold here that you can't get on phones over there, so that's what's driving the market," he said.
So profitable is the black market for the latest technology, that rival gangs are even teaming up to hit cell phone stores, said McClees. He said law enforcement agencies have made numerous arrests, but new crews continue to spring up, and they are all over the region.
"Anywhere there's a cell phone store, that's a part of town that might see an armed robbery," he said. "They don't mind traveling."
'There for the phones'
"Eventually one of the robberies is going to turn into a murder and nobody wants that," Alvarado said.
"In several situations, they've targeted customers, stealing their phones and wallets," Alvarado said. "But they're there for the phones."
Increase in robberies
Alvarado said this year there have already been 60 cell phone store robberies in the unincorporated parts of
That's up from 68 in the city in 2012, said
"We're looking at an almost 90 percent increase," Doreck said. "It's becoming a very big problem."
Doreck said the thefts cost the industry millions of dollars a year.
"One store may have
Doreck said law enforcement agencies believe the prices go up when the phones arrive overseas. A
In addition to trying to catch the robbers, Doreck said area law enforcement is targeting the so-called "fences" that buy the illegal goods locally.
HPD is one of several area departments involved with a recently assembled task force of state and federal agencies that includes the
"I know they're really involved, and I know they're really working hard on it, but I just don't want to say anything that might be detrimental to their efforts," Aronstein said.
He also lamented that innocent people find themselves in the middle of armed robberies.
"It's really unfortunate for the employees and the customers who are in the store when it happens," Aronstein said. "These are just honest hard-working people and they get unwillingly involved."
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