Robberies in Medford have increased 47 percent in the past year. For those working in vulnerable jobs, there are steps to take to ensure their safety.
The key to surviving a late-night shift — when you're the only one between a cash register and a potential robber — is to be aware of your surroundings at all times.
This piece of advice comes from 21-year-old Jessica Hagler, who worked late at night for Human Bean coffee stands for nine months.
Hagler, who has had her share of strange run-ins with late-night clientele, has several tidbits of wisdom to bestow on those who choose to work alone well after the sun has fallen.
"You are alone in a little box, so it attracts some creeps, you could say," Hagler said. "It's important to be aware of what's going on around you."
Hagler worked at Human Bean coffee booths in Medford and Ashland from September 2007 to June 2008.
Although she was never a victim of an armed robbery during her stint with the company, she has endured a few scary incidents along the way.
One night while closing a Human Bean booth on Barnett Road in Medford at around 9 p.m., she was hauling out a bag of trash when her mother pulled up to the booth to check on her. The car's headlights illuminated a man pressed against the booth near the door. He fled the area, leaving Hagler to wonder what could have happened had her mother not been there.
"He could have grabbed me or forced me to give him the money in the register," Hagler said. "I just don't know, but it was kind of scary at the time."
Human Bean owner Dan Hawkins said he instructs his employees to call the police anytime they feel unsafe. He said the company is fitting all its stands with cameras and alarms in case a criminal strikes.
"(Suspected robbers) should remember the Medford police and Jackson County sheriff's deputies are regular customers of ours and will do drive-bys if we call them," Hawkins said.
Even though coffee-kiosk employees are far from the only people targeted by robbers, their lessons are applicable to anyone who works late-night retail, police said.
Medford police report that robberies have increased 47 percent this year. So far, police have taken 26 robbery reports, up from 17 at this time last year. Five robberies have been reported in Medford since July, police said.
"The good news is we have cleared 80 percent of our robberies," Medford police Lt. Tim Doney said.
Detectives from Medford or the Jackson County Sheriff's Department would not speculate on the increase in robberies, which ranged from one-on-one stick-ups to business robberies, but they are ready to dole out helpful advice on how to avoid becoming a victim.
"There are definitely steps businesses can take to protect themselves," Doney said. "The first one starts with those who work in the businesses."
The first rule to remember is no amount of money is worth your life, Doney said. If a robber, armed or not, enters your place of employment late at night, be sure to comply with the demands made of you.
"Don't challenge the suspect," Doney said. "Some of these guys carry real guns, some carry replica guns. You don't know. But if you push a suspect too far you could end up real dead."
Most armed robberies are brief affairs where the suspect flashes a weapon or makes a demand before taking the money from the till and bolting from the scene. Surveillance videos of Medford's latest Purple Parrot heist early Tuesday at 940 Biddle Road show the suspect handling a gun while swiping the money and promptly leaving the business. The incident lasted less than two minutes.
Jackson County Sheriff's Detective Sgt. Colin Fagan said the key is to be compliant with the robber's demands, though not too compliant.
"If he asks for the till money then just give him the till money," Fagan said. "Don't volunteer anything else such as the money in the safe."
A helpful strategy is to express your compliance verbally while taking time to remember valuable details about the suspect, Fagan said.
"It is good to slow things down by telling him you're ready to do what he says and that he doesn't need to hurt you," Fagan said. "While you're doing that, make note of what he's wearing, if he has an accomplice outside, if he leaves in a car and what he says and touches."
If you think about it, follow the suspect out the door a few seconds after he has fled and note the direction he is running. This could give responding police units a chance to track him down, Fagan said.
"Also, recalling specific aspects of a suspect are a valuable resource," Fagan said. "Be sure to remember scars, markings or tattoos. These will help us narrow down the suspect quickly."
Among the most common late-night robbery targets are convenience stores and lottery outlets. Clerks at these businesses are quick to provide advice about how to remain safe after night falls.
Stacy, who declined to provide her last name, works at the OK Market on North Riverside Avenue in Medford. Being observant at all times, she said, can be the key in stopping a crime.
"We pay attention to who hangs out in front of the store," she said. "If we see someone coming in and out and asking strange questions, we will call 9-1-1."
The OK Market staffs two people at all times, Stacy said. They walk each other out to their cars after closing at midnight and never leave each other alone during business hours.
"Because we are in an area with a high amount of transients and alcoholics we have to look out for each other," Stacy said.
Various Purple Parrot workers refused to comment on this story when visited at their businesses this week. Purple Parrot manager Jill Patrick did not immediately return calls seeking comment on how the company trains employees to remain safe during late-night hours.
Doney said businesses can protect themselves from robbery by keeping large windows unblocked and utilizing security cameras that deter some would-be robbers.
"These places should have clear windows that allow a good view of the outside so suspects feel like they could be seen committing the robbery," Doney said. "We have found that potential robbers often choose places that are not well lit."
Ashley Backus and Aubry Fuller work at the Human Bean coffee stand on Vilas Road just outside Medford. The booth sits on a lonely parking lot, but is illuminated by outside lights and is equipped with security cameras.
They have had more than a few strange customers over the weeks and seem adept at handling uncomfortable situations.
"We will have our guy friends walk us to our cars," Backus said. "We also have a panic button that automatically calls the police when we feel threatened."
They will leave notes for other shifts describing suspicious customers and other incidents that raise their awareness.
"You always know when someone is being creepy," Fuller said. "We won't hesitate to call the police."
Doney agrees with the girls' strategy.
"That's what we're here for," he said. "We are paid to be nosy. If you spot something out of the ordinary, just give us a call and we'll be there as fast as we can to check it out."
Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 776-4471 or e-mail email@example.com.