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Pittsfield Police Investigating String Of Robberies

This is a picture of the inside of the Pittsfield Police station
Jim Levulis

Pittsfield Police are investigating a string of robberies and are offering suggestions on how to prevent such incidents.Police say there have been nine robberies since November in Pittsfield, eight of which are active investigations. They have occurred at businesses such gas stations and variety stores, but also at a credit union and a Salvation Army location. In early December, a pizza delivery driver was robbed. Police Chief Michael Wynn says Pittsfield has seen streaks like this before.

“It really depends on a variety of circumstances,” Wynn said. “Obviously this one we believe is driven by opioid addiction and substance abuse. But we also see them driven by the economy. This pattern is unusual in that ordinarily when we see a string like this, it’s one suspect.”

With no geographic pattern, police say each robbery appears to have been carried out by different suspects, adding that eyewitness information has not been strong. Five of the eight open cases involved a handgun with suspects in the remaining cases carrying knives. No one was injured in any of the robberies. Seven were carried out by men and one incident involved female suspects. All but one robbery happened between 5 p.m. and midnight. Police believe the early afternoon robbery of Dawes Avenue Variety this month may be linked to a bomb threat made against 15 area targets. In wake of the robberies, police urged business owners on Friday to take proactive steps.

“Just paying attention to suspicious activity in and around the business particularly as they’re coming up on closing hours,” Wynn said. “Experience indicates that in many cases the perpetrators will have cased the location so if we can interpret at that point and deter them from committing the robbery that would be huge. Additionally, having additional staff on at closing time, installing surveillance if you don’t have surveillance, updating your surveillance and making sure it’s functioning. Those are all good preventive measures. If God forbid you do find yourself in a robbery, comply. Don’t do anything to put yourself at any additional risk. As soon as the perpetrator flees, lock the door and immediately call 911. Once you’ve contacted the authorities, write down anything you remember that may be helpful in assisting us in identifying the perpetrator.”

When asked whether business owners should have a weapon, Wynn said quote “I’m not going to get into that.”

Surveillance video from Saturday night shows a masked man enter Peaslee’s Package & Variety and point a gun at the cashier, who hands over money from the register. Video also shows a boy enter the store moments after the suspect. The boy then turns and leaves the store. Kristine Hurley is managing director of Downtown Pittsfield, Inc., which has about 210 business and association members. She says she’s heard concerns from the overall Pittsfield community, not just business owners.

“People are nervous now that they can’t send their kid to the local variety store just to get a pack of gum,” Hurley said. “I don’t know if you saw the video, but that certainly instills a little bit of fear in parents.”

Hurley says the organization and its members meet regularly with police to discuss safety.  Peaslee’s posted a portion of its surveillance video on its Facebook page Saturday night, offering a cash reward for information. The post has generated a slew of comments. Generally speaking, Chief Wynn says, posting identical information as the police doesn’t make too much difference, but at times identification can become troublesome when conflicting and alternative information is posted. Mayor Linda Tyer, who was sworn in January 4th, campaigned on a promise to increase the number of police officers.

“I do think that when individuals who are likely to commit these kinds of crimes see that there is a greater police presence throughout the city that that will deter them from attempting to commit these types of robberies,” said Tyer.

Tyer says the robberies are concerning, but adds that police have a handle on the situation as far as trying to find patterns. Chief Wynn says special enforcement patrols were directed to pay more attention to commercial areas. With six to nine officers on patrol depending on the day and time, Wynn says he’s always an advocate for more officers on the streets.

“Honestly I don’t know that more officers on patrol would prevent these,” Wynn said. “These are crimes of opportunity and desperation. Without a detectable pattern, we can’t deploy in advance of these. We would still be responding.”

Pittsfield Police are asking anyone with information to call 413-448-9705.

Jim is WAMC’s Assistant News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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