Police add foot patrol after robbery

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Naugatuck police Lt. Ronald Hunt stands outside Big Y World Class Market on Bridge Street in Naugatuck Sept. 12. Naugatuck police are patrolling the parking lot at Big Y and stepping up patrols in the area following an armed robbery in the parking lot near the store Sept. 6. –RA ARCHIVE
Naugatuck police Lt. Ronald Hunt stands outside Big Y World Class Market on Bridge Street in Naugatuck Sept. 12. Naugatuck police are patrolling the parking lot at Big Y and stepping up patrols in the area following an armed robbery in the parking lot near the store Sept. 6. –RA ARCHIVE

NAUGATUCK — It was only a BB gun, but the way it was used during a recent holdup attempt was chilling.

Now Naugatuck police are stepping up patrols in the area of Bridge Street, near Big Y World Class Market, where an armed robbery occurred that has startled the community.

The incident occurred about 10 p.m. on Sept. 6, when a Waterbury man who later identified himself as a “hard core thug” from New York, approached two Big Y employees as they walked to their car. Brandishing what looked like a real handgun, police say 30-year-old Michael Lopez asked the two employees for cash and valuables. When one of the victims said he or she didn’t have any money, police say Lopez put the gun to the person’s head and demanded both of their IDs before telling them to drive off, police said.

Naugatuck police soon caught Lopez when an off-duty officer spotted him changing a flat tire at a nearby gas station. Lopez pointed the gun at the officer, who was wearing plain clothes at the time, and the officer drove off before calling for police backup, police said. Officers took Lopez into custody without incident.

Though the stickup ended with no injuries, it was likely traumatic for the victims and could have been worse, police say. That is why they have teamed up with Big Y to increase security in the area. Some of the patrols are being conducted through regular police duties, while Big Y is paying an off-duty officer during some of the hours.

Since the incident, police have provided a foot patrol at the store and parking area.

“This move was made to provide peace of mind to residents and shoppers,” Lt. Bryan Cammarata stated in a news release.

He said officers will be visible and approachable to address any suspicious activity. He encouraged residents and customers to report all suspicious activity to police.

Last Friday night, Naugatuck Lt. Ronald Hunt chatted with many customers while on patrol, and even helped a couple senior citizens put their groceries in their vehicles.
Cammarata said officers are there to make people feel more comfortable.

Talking about the armed robbery Sept. 6, Cammarata said such crimes are extremely rare in Naugatuck and that residents should continue to feel safe shopping at the plaza. Foot patrols are also rare in Naugatuck.

While they used to be commonplace years ago, officers mostly use patrol cars, and sometimes motorcycles or bicycles. However, when Naugatuck sees a spike in crime in an area or a crime like the robbery that is highly publicized and scares the community, the police department usually adds foot patrols in that area for a while.

The department took this approach two years ago on Church Street when there were several crimes in a relatively short period, and about four years ago on North Main Street when that area had a crime spree. Both had positive results and crime went down, police said.

Longtime Naugatuck resident Tricia Pozvek, who shopped at Big Y last Friday, said it is disheartening to her how the community needs to have officers patrol a grocery store parking lot.

“Years ago, we didn’t have these kind of issues,” she said. “Maybe I’m noticing it because I’m getting older, but I think the community is changing.”

And Naugatuck residents Al and Kristi Pistarelli, who also shopped at Big Y last Friday night, said they believe having officers in the area makes people feel more secure.

“I think they should have them in all parking lots at night because this kind of thing can happen anywhere,” Al Pistarelli said.