Dangerous trend: increase in recycling center robberies

Dangerous trend: increase in recycling center robberies »Play Video
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — The number of armed robberies at recycling centers has increased around Bakersfield in the past couple months. Officers aren't sure why, and workers are worried.

"I can feel it right now," a center worker told Eyewitness News on Friday. "I can remember that happening yesterday." He was robbed Thursday where he works at a center located at White Lane and Ashe Road.

A man pulled a gun and demanded money. That was one of two heists like this, the other was on Mt. Vernon. Again, the lone worker was held up.

On Friday, that worker also didn't want his name revealed. He told Eyewitness News two people came to recycle bottles and cans.

He gave them money for the recyclables, but then the man put a gun to his back. The worker handed over cash, and the man and the woman with him ran off.

"Deputies were able to identify two suspects in that robbery," Kern County Sheriff's spokesman Ray Pruitt said. "We did make two arrests yesterday."

The recycling centers are usually in storage units located in the parking lot near a convenience store or grocery store. They get held up by someone with a gun.

""We've seen an increase, it seems like within the last six months," Pruitt said. Bakersfield Police Sgt. Mary DeGeare said her department has seen the same.

Neither officer knows what's causing the increase, and the recycling center worker held up at White and Ashe also isn't sure.

"'They don't work," he says about the thieves. "They need money for something to buy."

Other recent cases like this include one on Casa Loma on May 23, and three all in one day on May 15.

Pruitt said those three seem to be connected because there are similar descriptions for the the suspects and vehicle in the incidents.

How could these robberies be prevented?

"We could pay them with vouchers, so that people go inside a store," the worker from White Lane said. "So we don't have to have money right here."

That's what some local recycling locations already do. A center at Hageman and Coffee has a sign saying they have no cash, it's run by rePlanet Recycling.

Company spokesman Joe Perez said rePlanet has always had a policy of handing out vouchers. That's for worker safety, and because their centers "partner" with nearby stores.

Perez said rePlanet has a number of locations in the Bakersfield area, they have more than 400 locations across California.

Eyewitness News checked into robberies at local recycling centers in previous years, and found there were at least a couple in 2009, and a least one each in the three years before that.

"It is dangerous," Pruitt said. "Any time you have a robbery it's dangerous." He said that's compounded when there's a gun involved and in a very open, public place like a parking lot.

"We'd hate to have a citizen unknowingly walk right into a robbery that's in progress." Pruitt added.

Of the two suspects deputies arrested from the Thursday Mt. Vernon incident, one is now also linked to another holdup.

Officers say Juan Wilkins, 35, is also suspected in an armed robbery at a nearby pet grooming shop last Sunday. The woman arrested with him for the recycling heist is identified as 24-year-old Nancey Cross.

Bakersfield Police say a suspect was also arrested for the robbery on White Lane. When he was informed about that, the worker there told Eyewitness News he was relieved.

He also said it's the second time he's been held up like that. The first time was about seven years ago. It's very frightening to have a suspect pull a gun on you.

"He pulled his shirt up, taking out a gun," the worker described. "He told me, just give me the money."

That's exactly what the worker did. It's what his company says to do, and officers have the same advice.

"We always recommend that victims in these types of cases, these types of robberies, comply," Pruitt said. "Just cooperate, hand over what's being asked."

Pruitt also said workers should call officers as soon as it's safe, and try to be a good witness providing as much description as possible.

Pruitt said Kern Sheriff's officers have several of these crimes still under investigation.