Police vehicles surround Caffè Strada as police investigate the theft of a laptop computer, in Berkeley, on Jan. 9 (file photo). Photo: David Yee

Four laptops were stolen during a robbery and theft at a popular coffee shop near UC Berkeley this week, making it at least the third time the business was targeted by crooks in as many weeks.

Berkeley police said three people “were seen casing the outdoor eating area” at Caffè Strada, at 2300 College Ave., at Bancroft Way, Wednesday night. The culprits grabbed four computers from customers, and pushed one of them, during the “snatch and grab” at 8:30 p.m.

The trio ran southbound on College and got into an older model four-door sedan, authorities said. Police described two members of the group as black men, 20-23, 6 feet tall with thin builds and wearing dark clothing. The other person was described only as a black male, and no information was available about the getaway driver.

Police also handled a laptop robbery at Strada on Jan. 9, along with four other robbery calls that night. Authorities said the Strada robber in that case brandished a broken fence piece at a customer on the patio after stealing his computer.

More recently, on Sunday, police responded to a laptop theft at Strada at 10:25 p.m. According to unconfirmed scanner traffic reviewed by Berkeleyside, a female customer’s laptop was taken by two young black men in hoodies, 6 feet tall, 19-20 years old, who ran off to a getaway car.

CrimeMapping.com also lists a grand theft on Bancroft Way across the street from Strada just before 8 p.m. Jan. 25, but Berkeleyside was unable to get further detail prior to publication time.

There have been at least 32 robberies in Berkeley since Jan. 1, according to CrimeMapping.com, an online repository for local crime data. Most have been concentrated around the UC Berkeley campus, in downtown, and in South Berkeley near Ashby Avenue.

Robberies in Berkeley in 2018. Image: CrimeMapping

But that doesn’t account for all the laptop grabs reported this year. Under the law, robberies require the use of force or fear. If someone takes a laptop and is not armed, and uses no threats or violence, it’s categorized as theft, which is a property crime.

There’s no way from the available public data to determine which of the 37 grand theft reports that have come into BPD in 2018 might have been laptop thefts.

But one of those incidents took place Wednesday at 9:10 p.m. at Sack’s Coffee House, at 2701 College Ave. just north of Derby Street, not long after the most recent robbery at Strada.

A community member posted on Reddit that “We were sitting in the coffee shop and four hooded guys ran in, stole a girl’s laptop while she was using it and got into a car.”

In response to that post, one person identified herself as one of the victims from the Strada robbery earlier that same night. She said she and three other girls had been the victims, writing, “It seemed like they were just looking for people sitting near exits or who didn’t look to be stronger than them.”

The person who shared news of the Sack’s incident urged community members to be vigilant: “Please be safe and keep an eye on your stuff! This literally happened 2 chairs away from me, towards the end of the inside of a coffee shop, and doesn’t necessarily happen when items are unintended or outside.”

Police offered similar advice in a brief statement Thursday about the robbery at Strada.

“Last night’s incident has become an all too frequent occurrence,” police wrote. “We recognize it’s not just a Berkeley problem as our neighbors are experiencing the same crimes. Several of the suspects we have interviewed who have been arrested for committing crimes like the one described above, said they specifically targeted patrons who weren’t paying attention to their surroundings. This fact is corroborated by our review of surveillance video taken from inside the restaurants and cafés where these crimes have been occurring.”

BPD published the following safety tips for individuals who are “working on their electronic devices while out in public”:

  • Be aware of surroundings
  • Do not leave valuables unattended (especially electronic devices)
  • Consider using a lock to secure electronic devices to the table
  • Back up work to an external hard drive (not kept with the computer) or to the cloud
  • Purchase tracking software, and remember to activate it, to aid in the location of a stolen device
  • If you see something suspicious, say something immediately and call 911

Police ask anyone with information to the Berkeley Police Robbery Detail at 510-981-5742.

Avatar photo

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...