An armed robber has been terrorizing valets at a place you'd think would be safe: the popular, high-end Bern's Steakhouse in south Tampa. Workers have been robbed three times since May.
The first two robbery victims tell 10News that not enough is being done to keep workers, neighbors, and customers safe at the location.
Added security lights in the alley leading from Bern’s to its parking lot didn't stop the most recent robbery. It had been even darker in the alley in May when, less than a month apart, valets Joe and Josh came face to face with a gunman demanding the cash from their pockets. They asked 10News not to use their last names because of safety concerns.
“He told me, ‘Give me the money,’ and I did. He told me to run. I just ran as fast as I could,” says Josh.
He was the first Bern’s valet the armed robber targeted. “It was just so shocking," he said. "I couldn't process things fast enough,” Josh says.
Just a few weeks later, the same thing happened to another valet, Joe. “He had me get on the ground and said ‘Give me all your money,’” Joe says.
“After the second robbery that was that was it. It was just such a minimal response (from management),” says Josh.
Both valets feel the restaurant or valet company didn't do enough to keep them safe and resigned.
“There weren't a lot of changes. They put up security lights in the area it happened, and they change the fence line. They did eventually, after I was robbed, put cameras in,” says Joe.
They're worried about workers who stayed, and with good reason. The man believed to be the repeat robber struck for a third time Sunday.
“He is targeting us because he knows we have large sums of cash on us, especially late at night. He's done it three times. I can't believe it,” Joe says.
On top of the three robberies at Bern's, there have been four others in the area this year: at an apartment, house, business and Plant High School.
Despite that, police say violent crime is down 16 percent in south Tampa from 77 cases last year to 65 cases in 2016, looking at data from January to November.
Tampa Police Chief Eric Ward says officers can't fight crime alone. The department tells 10News that community outreach efforts are aimed at getting businesses and residents to work together and to work with police to keep neighborhoods safe.
When it comes to violent crime, the department says it’s focused on getting the worst of the worst and repeat offenders off the street. He insists that has a direct and immediate impact on crime reduction.
Investigators say they've been working with Bern's to make the valets less vulnerable on their routes and carrying less cash.
Victims believe it's time to bring in security.
“All parties involved have a responsibility to keep employees safe and keep neighbors safe. It's alarming. Everyone should be outraged,” says Josh.
“We need to catch this guy and bring him to justice,” Joe says.
Bern’s released this statement to 10News: Bern's takes the safety of our employees, guests and neighbors very seriously. We are working with Tampa Police to implement protocol measures for safety and additional security.
As for the suspect, the victims are giving similar descriptions to police:
May 1, 2016 at 11:46 p.m.: White male, 30-49 years of age, thin, approximately 6 feet tall, 160 lbs., with scraggy beard and mustache. The brim on the baseball cap had a noticeable bend/ curve.
May 29, 2016 at 12:39 a.m.: White male, 30-49 years of age, approximately 5”9, 145 lbs. Last seen wearing blue jeans, blue/gray t-shirt, bandana over face and gray baseball cap.
November 27, 2016 at 10:27 p.m.: White male, tall and thin build. Last seen wearing tan shorts, a long sleeve t-shirt and a black ski mask. Armed with a silver handgun.
If you have any information on the robberies call Crime Stoppers of Tampa Bay at 1-800-873-TIPS (8477) or report it anonymously online.