HOUSTON - You don’t have to look hard to find a coffee house around Houston. But the KHOU 11 News I-Team found that customers hanging out there may get a jolt, not just from their java, but as the victim of a crime.
The stories come from two women who never met, but are now forever joined in a police report.
They’re so filled with fear by what happened to them inside a northwest Houston Starbucks store two weeks ago, the women asked that we conceal their identities.
“This was a huge shock and a huge surprise,” explained one, a 42-year old Houston woman.
“I couldn’t believe it,” echoed the other victim, a college student. “I was like pinch me, I’m having a nightmare,” said the University of Houston senior.
The two women said they never expected a trip to a coffee house would turn them into victims.
“I still have nightmares,” said the student. “I still have ‘what if?’ or what could I have done different?”
She said she was sipping coffee and using her Mac Book Pro laptop when she noticed two men enter the store.
The student said the next thing she knew, one of the men lunged for her $2,000 computer.
“All of a sudden he just grabs it like that,” she demonstrated. “I try to grab it back and it slips, the way he turned it, it slipped out of my hands.”
That commotion distracted the 42-year-old customer sitting on the other side of the restaurant, hard at work using her Mac Book Air.
“I heard a scream across the room,” explained the second victim. “I turned to look at that, unfortunately, and at that time, that’s when my computer was grabbed. I had no time.”
The two men, carrying the two stolen computers, bolted out of the door, across the parking lot and into the night.
“Just $2,000, gone,” lamented the student.
“You start thinking about, ‘well, those people might have my information from my computer,” said the second victim. “Am I safe at home?”
The Houston Police Department said this is the first time this crime has happened here.
But the 11 News I-Team found it’s been going on across the country. We found reports from New York, Seattle, Atlanta, and other cities that detailed how grab-and-go thieves stole computers from coffee-house customers, right out from under them. In fact, earlier this year Phoenix, Arizona had 15 of these thefts, leading police to start staking out the city’s Starbucks.
“Never thought about it,” explained the local student. “I thought I was safe.”
It’s a feeling police said the crooks count on.
“I think that people go to coffee shops to talk and do some work and relax, yes,” said Houston Police Officer Rafael Pantoja. “But bottom line is, there are no safe places. You have to be aware of your surroundings everywhere you are.”
It was a costly lesson for the two local victims who are out thousands of dollars, and instead left with a feeling neither can shake.
“That’s my biggest fear is that they’ll do it again,” worried the 42 year old. “And be more brazen about it this time. Not just take two computers, but try to take all the computers in the place with more force.”
Just as surprising to the victims was that the Starbucks where the crime happened, at Highway 290 and 43rd Street, had no security cameras.
The manager of the Starbucks referred our questions to a company spokesperson. In a statement to the I-Team, a spokesman for Starbucks wrote:
“The safety and security of our customers and partners (employees) is our top priority. We want every customer who walks into our stores to have a positive visit, and we are disturbed to learn of these customers’ experience. Following the incident, our local partners immediately notified the police department, and we will continue to support its investigation. For safety reasons, are unable to comment on specifics related to our stores’ security and surveillance measures. We are referring all questions regarding the incident to local police.”