NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Business owners and employees who work in the Riverbend area are on edge after a rash of armed robberies there. The most recent happened Sunday morning at a gas station.
Mercedes Juarez has worked at Louisiana Pizza Kitchen for 10 years. She explains, "It's been very eerie knowing all of the robberies are going on, its been very nerve wracking if you will."
Juarez has seen crime come and go in the neighborhood but says she's never heard of so many armed robberies in such a short amount of time. "Its been like a little domino effect, one started and then boom, boom, boom, all of them," Juarez said.
According to nearby store employees, a man robbed Walgreens in the 700 block of South Carrollton Avenue last Saturday. At 6:00 p.m., the man, identified as 26-year-old Earnest Smith, showed up at Sally Beauty Supply with a sawed off shotgun, demanding cash. Smith made away with cash, "Brazilian" hair pieces, boxes of flat irons and two cell phones from employees
A few days prior, police say that Smith was the man responsible for an armed robbery at Subway in the 1300 block, where he took money from the cash drawer, before fleeing in an unknown direction.
Just after 5 a.m. Sunday, someone held up a clerk at gunpoint, at the Chevron gas station in the 1400 block.
People who live near South Carrollton say it's uncharacteristic for the neighborhood. "I know tonight when I get off work I have to stop and get gas in my truck before I go home so I'm going to be very aware now," resident Roland Press said.
"At one time these kind of incidents were confined to certain risk areas. Right now, there's no green zone," LSU criminologist Peter Scharf, Ph.D said.
Scharf says he's tracking armed robberies all over the city. He thinks the NOPD's manpower shortage may be giving perpetrators a false sense of security.
"Somebody's thinking of pulling an armed robbery, thinks maybe I'll get caught and maybe the answer is no," Scharf said.
The police department is working to beef up it's presence on city streets. But in the meantime, people in the Riverbend area, say they're taking matters into their own hands.
Business owner Bo Nguyen says, "When a situation comes like that, I don't want to have to react but I protect myself because I have guns too."
At Louisiana Pizza Kitchen, extra security is on hand. Plus, come closing time, the building is secure. "We don't unlock the doors, that way no one comes in and only people can go out," Juarez explained.
They're small steps, but ones which Juarez and others in the neighborhood hope will keep them, and their businesses, safe.
Police aren't saying if Earnest Smith is the man responsible for the hold up at Chevron.
If you have any information about the robberies, call Crimestoppers at 504-822-1111. You could be eligible for a cash reward.