Merced Residents on Edge over Rash of Robberies

FRESNO, Calif. The Central Valley Community Bank is one of three Merced banks that have been hit by robbers since the start of 2010. In this case police said two men used a handgun to demand cash and then ran from the scene, dropping some of the money during their escape. Christina Macha, who owns a clothing store in the same shopping center, said she and her employees have been taking extra precautions ever since.

The Bank of America in Downtown Merced was also recently held up, and a manager there confirms the company has since hired an armed security guard. But it's not just banks being targeted. Six stores, including a Check into Cash have also been hit in the past month and a half, and eight pedestrians have been robbed. One couple was injured during a mugging as they walked home from a Downtown festival last month, and Thursday night, a man had his bike stolen at knife point at a popular taco shop.

14 of the robberies this year have involved weapons. It's a trend that started in 2009 when the number of armed robberies increased by more than 17% from the previous year. And investigators have also noticed another trend.

Floyd Higdon with the Merced Police Department said detectives have stepped up surveillance efforts as a result of the recent robberies. And they're also urging residents to be aware.

Macha said, "We know most of our customers, if we do somebody suspicious, we do call police right away."

Merced Police said they've already solved two of the bank robberies, thanks in part to tips from the public. Investigators said some of the recent cases may be linked, but they also believe the recession is likely leading more people to commit these types of crimes.

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