Police check a piece of broken railing for evidence as they investigate the theft of a laptop computer from Caffè Strada, in Berkeley, on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018. Photo: David Yee

A robber brandished a broken fence piece at a man after stealing his laptop Tuesday night at the popular UC Berkeley study spot Caffè Strada, authorities report.

It was one of four robberies and one robbery attempt in Berkeley that night, three of which may have been the work of a single robbery crew, police said. Berkeley generally averages five to seven robberies a week.

The final robbery of the night was the only one where the culprit used a gun, said Berkeley Police Sgt. Andrew Frankel, department spokesman. Frankel said an armed black man in his early 20s, 5 foot 8 to 5 foot 9 wearing a dark-colored hooded sweatshirt, went into Berkeley Smog & Gas, at 3000 Shattuck Ave. in South Berkeley, just before 10:40 p.m. The man demanded the contents of the register, then ran off southbound on Shattuck with the loot. Police could not find him.

The robbery at Strada, at 2300 College Ave. in the Southside neighborhood, took place at 8:15 p.m. when a customer was working on his laptop on the patio, Frankel said. A white man with long hair walked past the customer, then turned around and grabbed his computer before running away. The customer briefly chased the man “until the suspect broke off a finial of the fence and threw it” at him, causing the customer to give up the pursuit.

The suspect in that case was described as a white man, 22-30 years old, “very thin” and 5 foot 7 inches tall. He wore a black beanie and a black sweatshirt over a white undershirt.

Police vehicles surround Caffè Strada as police investigate the theft of a laptop computer Tuesday. Photo: David Yee

The other three robberies took place at 5:35 p.m. in the 2300 block of Shattuck, 7:40 p.m. in the 3000 block Hillegass Avenue, and at 8 p.m. at Browning and Addison streets.

In the Hillegass incident, also in Southside, two men grabbed a woman’s purse and struggled with her in an effort to take it, but she managed to hold on, Frankel said. The men fled southbound on foot, and a vehicle was heard “peeling out” nearby. The suspects were described as two black men, 25-35 years old. One was of medium height, and the other was 5 foot 4 to 5 foot 6 and wore dark clothing.

About 20 minutes later, two people approached a pedestrian on the sidewalk at Browning and Addison in West Berkeley and asked for his or her property. The victim handed it over, and the men ran to a vehicle waiting nearby. The suspects drove northbound on Browning, then east on Addison. One of the robbers was described as a black man in his 20s of medium height with a thin build, and the other was 5 foot 8 to 5 foot 10 with a medium build, short hair, and all dark clothing.

Minimal information was available as of publication time about the third robbery, which took place at 5:35 p.m. in the 2300 block of Shattuck in South Berkeley. Berkeleyside will update this story if it is provided.

Police have handled a number of laptop thefts from cafés this year. When the property snatch does not involve force or fear, it is categorized as theft rather than robbery.

A customer uses a laptop as nearby police investigate the theft of a laptop from the patio at Caffè Strada on Tuesday. Photo: David Yee

On Jan. 3 shortly after 2 p.m., Frankel said, a woman told police a man grabbed her laptop from her table at Espresso Roma, at 2960 College Ave. The man ran off to a white vehicle that fled. Police were unable to apprehend its occupants. The suspect was described as a white teenager with “an olive complexion and a wispy goatee,” 17-19 years old, 5 foot 9 inches tall and very slender, with brown hair and dark eyes. He was wearing a “fire engine red, hooded sweatshirt.”

On Monday of this week, between 9:15 and 9:30 p.m., a man stole a laptop that a woman left unattended inside Taco Bell at 2528 Durant Ave. Police described the man as white, 25-35 years old, with a medium to heavy build, a full beard and brown hair pulled back into a bun. He was wearing a black jacket with gray on it, black or dark blue pants and black boots.

Also this week, three 15-year-old boys from Oakland were arrested Wednesday after police say they snatched a laptop from a customer working inside the Oxford Street Starbucks in downtown Berkeley. Witnesses called police immediately, and officers were already in the area to pursue the suspects in that case.

Arrests have not been made in any of the other instances.

Frankel advised community members to install tracking software on their computers, and be sure to back up their data often. Awareness of surroundings is key, he said. In response to a question about whether a laptop lock might be useful, he said it can’t hurt.

“Anything that’s going to slow them down is a benefit,” he said.

A map of the incidents appears below, and was added after publication in response to a reader request. Blue markers show robbery calls, and orange ones show felony thefts. Addresses may only be accurate to the block level, depending on what information was available.

Police ask anyone with information about any of these incidents to call the Berkeley Police Robbery Detail at 510-981-5741.

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Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist...