Robbers leave 12 victims naked
By Mehul Srivastava
Dayton Daily News
RIVERSIDE | The officers responding to the 911 call hadn't seen anything like it before — people, naked except for their trash bags, walking down Valley Street.
Early Friday, they had been robbed at gunpoint during a poker game at a private club on Intercity Drive.
But before the robbers left, they stripped the 12 poker players of their clothes and tied the men and women together with shoelaces and belts.
In the hour or so it took the victims to free themselves, and find the trash bags to cover themselves, the ski-masked robbers had made a clean getaway.
"I am sure they had to get the gumption up to walk out the door with no clothes on," said Riverside Detective Kolbey Watson, who spent Friday following leads.
The crime, while unique in its execution, highlights a reality that Riverside residents have had to face with increasing regularity — nearly two years of budget cuts forced by failed levies have left the police department without the resources to protect the city from crime.
"We are reacting to crimes now, rather than proactively preventing them," said Riverside City Manager Jim Onello.
When the poker game was robbed, Riverside had three patrol cars on duty for its nearly 30,000 residents. When one was dispatched on a call and another was called for a backup, that left one free patrol car for the entire city.
"That's all we can afford now," Onello said.
On Thursday, a National City Bank at the Airway Shopping Center was held up, Onello said.
"We would like to have a patrol car go by the shopping center every so often, but we can't even do that," Onello said.
In January, it became clear that Riverside's police department could investigate only the most violent crimes. Murders, rapes, and violent assaults took priority over other crimes.
So, for instance, when a group of people who had their cars vandalized with racist slurs in June, they got a police report to help with insurance claims.
But the crime couldn't be investigated. "Lack of manpower," Riverside police Officer Dave Schmidt said. "We just don't have the ability to go after these cases."
According to one victim of the poker-game robbery, the armed men were in the club for nearly an hour.
"They had us tied up on the floor, and then they asked all of us to give them the PINs to our credit cards and bank cards," said Ronald Shepherd, 29.
By then, the robbers had used a knife to strip them naked, and had taken away their cell phones.
When the robbers weren't happy with the amount of money the victims had, they took the time to search through the cars in the parking lot for anything valuable.
During that one hour, no police patrol car went past the location on Valley Street. With the crunch on their resources, the officers sometimes go past the Laws trailer parks at the other edge of Valley Street because of recent episodes of arson.
Even if a police officer had noticed something wrong, there wasn't much he could do, said Watson, the detective investigating the robbery.
"Usually, at least one of the patrol cars is tied up on business elsewhere," he said.
"And when something like this pops up, what can one officer do against four men armed with assault rifles?"
With police patrols barely visible, its been open season on Riverside's roads since January. Without a traffic division, police hand out few speeding tickets except to the most obvious offenders. Crimes against properties (thefts, vandalism) have increased in the last two years, Onello said.
During the same two years, Riverside residents have three times turned down a 4.95-mill levy that would have allowed the police department to return at least a few positions in its staff of 27. Now, three detectives handle almost 1,500 felonies a year, and 15 positions have been eliminated. The police department's fleet of cars is aging — Onello estimated the cars were on average at least 8 years old with more than 120,000 miles on them — and the city has no funds to repair or replace them.
But for officers like Watson, the financial problems translate to a much simpler reality.
"As a police officer, to have to tell folks who have been robbed that we can't investigate their crime is really tough," he said. " You gotta feel sorry for those people.