CLEARWATER — A rash of armed robberies has police in Clearwater warning Hispanic men to be careful when they are out at night.
The Clearwater police held a news conference Friday to discuss a disturbing trend of black-on-Hispanic violence.
The crime analysis section of the department noticed 45 cases this year with a similar modus operandi: Hispanic men, walking alone or riding their bikes, often at night, have been stopped by two or more black men, ages 17 to 25, and robbed at gunpoint.
A quarter of the cases involved masked men. Three quarters took place between 10 p.m. and 2:30 a.m. In most of the cases, the victim was knocked to the ground, kicked and punched or had a gun held to his head. The robbers took wallets, bikes and cell phones.
Police Officer Brian Munoz, the Hispanic outreach liaison officer for the Police Department, said these appeared to be "crimes of opportunity" and not racially motivated.
Five of the robberies in the last four months took place in a small rectangle, bounded by Drew Street, Highland Avenue, Woodlawn Street and Myrtle Avenue. In the last six months of 2007, there was just one similar robbery in that area.
Police said there was a significant increase in this type of crime over last year. Citywide statistics, however, were not available.
Clearwater has a large and growing Hispanic population. Hispanics make up 17 or 18 percent of the city's population, according to Robin Gomez, the city's auditor and its Hispanic-Latino liaison. Roughly 75 percent of the Hispanic population comes from the Mexican state of Hidalgo, he said.
Hispanic immigrants have historically been reluctant to put their money in banks, Gomez said, and they are used to dealing in cash.
To date, two victims have been shot. Three arrests have been made.
Anyone with information can call the Clearwater Police Department at (727) 562-4422.
Jonathan Abel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4157.