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Gainesville police combat rash of robberies

More officers being deployed to patrol areas around UF campus

GAINESVILLE, FLa. – The Gainesville and University of Florida police departments are increasing patrols in and around the UF campus after a rash of armed robberies in the area.

Two robberies were reported this week near the campus, prompting UF alerts. One victim said he was robbed at gunpoint Tuesday by two men, who took his wallet and phone, on SW 3rd Avenue. The other victim said two men came into his home Monday night on West University Avenue with a handgun and brass knuckles and demanded "rent money." The victim said the men took cash and two cellphones.

In response to these and other robberies, in-service GPD training has been suspended and the training staff is currently helping patrol officers at key times in the evening when the robberies are being reported.

Additional specialty units are being temporarily redeployed in other areas to keep the area around campus saturated with police.

Those changes will remain in place for the foreseeable future.

"Pretty much since the semester has started, we have noticed that increase in robberies," GPD spokesman Ben Tobias said. "And trying to get a handle on that; this is something that has been in the works for quite a while."

GPD has also asked the university's Police Department to expand its patrol area beyond the campus boundaries.

"I want both the students and criminals to see extra officers," Gainesville Police Chief Tony Jones said. "I want these armed offenders to know that we are out there watching, and students will no doubt be reassured by seeing more officers around. You can expect to see a GPD or UFPD cruiser in those off-campus student housing areas."

Many students walk or ride bikes or scooters to and from their classes at UF, making them easier targets if they're alone. GPD has a 75 percent arrest rate on robberies this year, but the crimes are still up.

"Crime is unfortunately everywhere, and we work very hard to keep Gainesville a safe place," GPD spokesman Ben Tobias said. "We understand that this type of crime is very invasive and personal. If you're the victim of an armed robbery, you don't really care about the current crime rate, you just want your offender off the streets. We understand that and are in the process of shifting resources to help catch these offenders and help prevent future incidents. We will unfortunately never be able to completely stop the criminal element, but we are committed to reducing their opportunities as much as possible."

GPD officers have been interviewing known prior robbery offenders to try to find out information on the possible identities of the the thieves.

Investigators have made arrests in many of the prior cases that resulted in UF alerts being distributed, and GPD detectives are currently working leads on cases that have happened within the past few weeks, police said.

GPD representatives said they want to reassure students and parents that although there has been an apparent crime spike recently, Gainesville remains a safe, healthy place to live and work. Officials encourage everyone to know their surroundings and practice good safety techniques at any hour, but especially after dark. It's important to walk in well-lit areas and in a group if possible, police said. Always have a way to call, scream or yell for help if it's needed.

"A little bit of apprehension or a little bit of nervousness in your daily life is OK," Tobias said. "You want to know what is around you, and you want to be safe. Sometimes, when there is absolutely no crime around, people become very complacent and let their guard down. We all do."

The Gainesville Police Department also appreciates any help the public can offer in solving these crimes. If you have any information about recent unsolved robberies, please contact GPD's Detective Division at 352-393-7670. You can also pass information along anonymously by calling GPD's tip line at 352-393-7700 or by texting keyword GPDFL plus your tip to 274637.