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Originally published Thursday, September 26, 2013 at 7:10 PM

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2 armed robberies near UW prompt warnings, more patrols

Seattle and UW police are increasing patrols north of campus after two armed robberies of students in the past week. The returning students are “an easy target,” police say, and warnings are going out to them.

Seattle Times higher education reporter

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Seattle and University of Washington police are stepping up patrols north of campus after four students were robbed at gunpoint in two separate incidents in the last week.

Seattle detectives are looking into the possibility that the two crimes are linked, said Renee Witt, spokeswoman for the Seattle Police Department. The holdups shared some similarities and occurred just blocks from each other, near the school’s Greek Row neighborhood.

“The criminals know the students are back on campus, and quite frankly, they’re an easy target,” Witt said. “You have lots of students; you have the cover of darkness.”

Thursday’s mugging happened at 1 a.m., on 18th Avenue Northeast near Northeast 50th Street. Two students, both men, were approached by another man who pointed a black handgun at them and told them he wanted “all their stuff.” He took cash from their wallets and a cellphone from one victim, and smashed a cellphone belonging to the other victim, according to Seattle police. The men were not injured.

On Sunday, two students — a man and a woman — were walking along 17th Avenue Northeast near Northeast 50th Street around 11:43 p.m. when they were approached by four men. One of the robbers pulled out a handgun, and the men stole the woman’s purse and cellphone. One of the men punched the male student in the nose.

Although Seattle police have jurisdiction in the area where the robberies took place, the university’s police department also patrols the area just north of campus, and those patrols are being increased, said University Police Cmdr. Steve Rittereiser.

He said there were several robberies last October, in and around campus. After police did more patrols, and made several arrests, the robberies stopped.

He said campus police have been advising students not to walk alone after dark, and to keep cellphones and other expensive electronic devices hidden away, and earphones out of ears.

“When you’ve got your earphones in, and your head down, you lose the opportunity to know what’s going on around you,” he said.

UW student Shivani Changela, community relations director for student government, said student leaders are distributing safety guides and advising their peers to keep cellphones out of sight.

An occasional armed robbery in that neighborhood isn’t unusual, but two robberies within days, each with a pair of victims, is atypical, said David Hotz, director of the office of fraternity and sorority life at the UW. Most of the university’s fraternities and sororities have houses in that neighborhood.

Hotz said a number of the fraternities and sororities are equipped with surveillance cameras that have been used to catch thieves and robbers in the past. But none of the chapter house cameras were located close enough to the two recent muggings to produce any evidence.

“The unfortunate reality is that when school starts, and also after Christmas, would-be thieves know that suddenly there’s a lot of people in the neighborhood adjacent to campus carrying a lot of electronics,” Hotz said. “It’s having a gun that’s really the scary part.”

Katherine Long: 206-464-2219 or klong@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @katherinelong.

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