Cops nab a robber in action, thanks to an alert merchant and some old-fashioned surveillance work
It started on a cold December evening many years ago. The article in the Ann Arbor News the next day made it sound like several plainclothes officers, perhaps doing some last-minute Christmas shopping, stumbled upon an armed bandit after he had just committed a robbery.
In fact it was an alert merchant and more than an hour of surveillance of a suspicious person that culminated in the arrest of two guys for armed robbery. That is the type of work that a surveillance unit does.
On this evening, the Ann Arbor Police Department received a call from a merchant in the area of South State and Eisenhower that there was a suspicious man outside of the store. Normally uniformed patrol officers handle these calls.
If the suspicious person is located, he or she is identified and questioned in order to ascertain what that person was doing that prompted the citizen’s call. On this night, however, the surveillance unit was out and about and moved into the area to try and spot the suspicious person.
Photo courtesy of www.thirdgen.org
At one point this guy met with another person in a car. The surveillance officers in the area noted the car's description and license plate. Then two surveillance cars followed that car for a while to see what the driver was up to.
In the meantime the guy in the bushes maintained his vigil, until he determined the coast was clear and it was time to act. He crossed the parking lot and went in the front door of Kuppenheimer's Menswear (where World Market is today).
The front of the store had no windows, so officers could not see what was going on inside. Clothing stores are not normally targets of armed robberies. Clothing stores are more commonly victimized by frauds or shoplifters.
The suspicious dude spent only a few minutes in the store and came running out the front door. He was not carrying an armful of suit coats or trailing neckties so it was not a shoplifting. This was a robbery since he also had something small and metallic in his hand as he fled.
He ran east through the parking lot and out to South State Street where he paused at the curb and looked up and down the street several times. Timing is everything, and his getaway car driver missed his cue.
The bandit ran east across the street and just north of the Shell Station at the corner. It looked like he was running toward the high rise at 777 E. Eisenhower.
The surveillance officers had already radioed for patrol cars and they were quickly moving into the area. The suspect was spotted again crossing East Eisenhower on the median. The surveillance officer in a 1992 Camaro spotted the bandit and slowed to watch him. This spooked the bandit who now sprinted east on the median.
I wonder who was more surprised the officer driving the Camaro, that was equipped with a front cowling we called a "cow catcher" or the bandit when the Camaro popped the curb and started chasing the suspect down the grass median. The suspect, surprised that anyone would do that, or the officer, surprised the front end and oil pan were not ripped off the car —luckily the oil pan is recessed above the bottom of the frame rails on that model.
The classic crook versus machine chase continued with the bandit changing directions numerous times and the officer in close pursuit. Every change of direction by the bandit and surveillance car; up curb, down curb, driving on the sidewalk and through parking lots was dutifully reported by the pursuing officer. Several times squealing tire noises were heard in the background of the radio transmissions as the Camaro stayed literally on the heels of the suspect.
The suspect ran until the cowcatcher turned out to be a crook catcher and scooped the winded bad guy onto the hood, in the area of the Bombay Bicycle Club (now Damon's). When the suspect saw the rather large dark spot on the windshield, which was the officer's gun barrel, diplomatic relations were immediately established between cop and crook. Both parties agreed the chase had concluded. Patrol officers swooped in and removed the Camaro's temporary hood ornament.
Other patrol officers in the area spotted the ill-timed getaway car driver and arrested him. A ground search of the area yielded the pistol the suspect used in the robbery, which he had dropped while fleeing.
Several plainclothes officers spotted and arrested the robber — indeed. Media accounts seldom tell the whole story. Catching criminals is a team effort. It takes alert citizens and police officers working together to sweep the streets of criminals.
Lock it up, don’t leave it unattended, be aware and watch out for your neighbors.
Rich Kinsey is a retired Ann Arbor police detective sergeant who now blogs about crime and safety for AnnArbor.com. He also serves as the Crime Stoppers coordinator for Washtenaw County.