Banks Robbed in S.F. -- Tactical Teams Swarm in on 5 Suspects
Jaxon Van Derbeken, Steve Rubenstein, San Francisco Chronicle
Five men suspected of committing more than two dozen bank robberies were arrested Tuesday afternoon by San Francisco police after they allegedly held up a bank in the Richmond District.
An unsuccessful search of the area for a sixth suspect was called off about 7 p.m.
Detectives said Tuesday's holdup of the Bank of America at 3701 Balboa St. was committed at 2:10 p.m. The men, who were wearing masks and gloves, held the tellers at gunpoint and escaped with less than $10,000.
A driver picked up the robbers and sped off, police said.
Two men were arrested within 20 minutes at a home at 41st Avenue and Anza Street. Three others were arrested hiding in backyards after police cordoned off the area. Officers also found a backpack containing the stolen cash in one of the yards.
"There were at least two (men) armed" during the robbery, said SFPD spokesman Neville Gittens. ''We're still looking for another possible suspect."
More than a dozen officers searched door to door in the area until about 7 p.m. before giving up. Traffic was rerouted, and pedestrians were kept a block away.
Rubberneckers gathered on street corners of the normally quiet neighborhood while helicopters circled overhead, and a command post trailer was set up at 41st Avenue and Balboa Street.
"Nothing like this ever goes on around here," said a kid on a bicycle.
Authorities believe the men committed about 26 robberies over the last year or so in San Francisco and its suburbs.
"This is a major arrest -- based on the number of crimes that have been committed," said Capt. Paul Chignell of the Investigations Bureau. "These guys have been violent in the past, they have pistol-whipped some of their victims."
Lt. John Loftus of the robbery detail said the suspects are believed to have committed 26 robberies, entering the bank in masks, pulling out weapons and taking over the banks. Most of the holdups have occurred in the Peninsula, but the robbers also have hit in the East Bay and Marin County.
Loftus said the money found in the backpack is believed to be the total taken in the robbery, estimated at less than $10,000. "The last several robberies, they have become more brazen and more violent -- in at least four robberies, the tellers have been pistol-whipped."
He said the men were extremely dangerous.
"We're very fortunate to have caught them today," Loftus said.
The suspects' names and addresses were not released, pending their being booked into the San Francisco Jail.