PALO ALTO, Calif, - Four teenage boys from Oakland were arrested after allegedly robbing a woman and trying to steal her vehicle at the Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto on Monday evening, according to police.
Investigators said the crime took place around 6p.m. in the bustling parking of Fleming’s restaurant, on the east side of the shopping center.
The victim, a woman in her 50s, was sitting in her car when the teens allegedly demanded the vehicle and her possessions.
"Forced her out of the car. She fled. Was able to flag down a witness. That witness lent her a cell phone, and she called 911," said Palo Alto acting police Lt. Brian Philip.
While police responded, the suspects, a 14-year-old and three 16-year-olds, were unable to start the car, and ultimately ran off. An alert police sergeant spotted them at the city’s transit hub and made the arrest.
The teens were charged with carjacking, robbery and conspiracy. They are all being held at the Santa Clara County juvenile detention center.
"Many of these kids do not see themselves ever having enough money to get a car, pay for gas and insurance. But they still want to feel like to be behind the wheel. And I think that’s what at the root of this current issue," said Prof. William Carbone, a juvenile justice expert at the University of New Haven.
This crime is part of a larger issue encompassing more than just carjackings and theft. Retailers across the state and country have been the targets of an increasing rash of crimes.
At the State Capitol Tuesday, a bipartisan group of legislators were joined by California retailers in pushing for AB2390 to become law. If passed, the law would address retail theft by strengthening the ability of district attorneys to press charges.
"To focus on the root causes of crime. Whether its drug abuse, mental health issues or homeless. While at the same time, making sure serial offenders are held accountable," said the bill’s sponsor, Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi of Torrance.
While legislators debate, Palo Alto police said they’ve taken action. They’re increasing patrols in the parking lots of the Stanford Shopping Center, as a way to dissuade copycat criminals from targeting another potential victim.
"It’s extremely concerning to us. It’s concerning to everybody the public included," said Philip.
The victim in the case was not harmed, and some of her belongings were recovered.
In addition to police and private security patrols, law officers advise patrons to be aware of their surroundings, and lock car door immediately after entering.