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Modesto store owners, police to meet

Paul Grewel says gunmen have robbed his Yosemite Boulevard am-pm minimarket five times in about 18 months, with the most recent robbery occurring last week.

No one has been hurt, but Grewel is frustrated.

"We are very fortunate," he said. "No one has been shot, but that can change at any time."

He has organized a meeting with convenience store and minimarket owners and Modesto police. Grewel invited about two dozen owners. The store owners are set to meet today with acting Police Chief Mike Harden.

The Dec. 4 fatal shooting of a clerk at a convenience store between Modesto and Ceres is weighing heavily on store owners. The Sheriff's Department is investigating that case.

"I just want to ask the police, 'What should we do?' " said Darshan Bal, who owns three Modesto stores and plans to attend today's meeting.

Grewel said he also is concerned about the Police Department's response to shoplifters, fistfights and beer thefts at his store at 3001 Yosemite Blvd. He said these crimes have increased as the economy has tanked.

He said officers used to arrive within 20 to 30 minutes after the 911 call. But for about the past two or three years, Grewel claims, officers usually have taken a report over the phone.

"When we call police, their usual excuse is, 'We are short-handed,' " he said. "When it's an armed robbery, they show up. But when it's a beer run, they don't show up.

"Our concern is that they need to send a message to these criminals that they will even respond to a beer run."

Sgt. Brian Findlen, a police spokesman, said officers sometimes take reports over the phone instead of responding in person.

He said that's not a new policy and the decision to take a report over the phone is based on such factors as how busy the officer is, whether he has priority calls to respond to and how much specific information the store can provide about a shoplifter or other petty criminal.

"The fact remains petty theft is not given the same priority as a robbery, a domestic violence case in progress or a drive-by shooting," Findlen said. "But we do everything we can to solve these cases. We are arresting people for these offenses routinely."

He also said the police recognize that convenience stores and minimarkets that are open 24 hours and sell alcohol often are targeted by criminals. Findlen said that's why patrol officers make an effort to keep an eye on them.

Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at kvaline@modbee.com or 578-2316.

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