Cold weather and longer nights are not the only harbingers of winter.

An increase in robberies at convenience stores also signals the change in the season, police say.

“We usually see (more robberies) this last quarter of the year,” said Yakima police Detective Ryan Pepper. “My guess is not just robberies, but thefts in general pick up.”

Pepper recently conducted a workshop for business owners to help them take steps to reduce their chances of being targeted for robberies. The class covered how to survive a robbery and give police the information they need to arrest the robber.

State law defines robbery as taking someone’s property or money from them by force or by threatening violence. According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report for 2018, there were 121 robberies in the city, compared to 150 the year before. The Yakima County Sheriff’s Office responded to 10 robberies last year and 17 in 2017, according to statistics submitted to the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.

Nationally, robberies of convenience stores and gas stations represented about 10.1% of all robberies reported to law enforcement in 2018, compared with 9.6% in 2017, according to the FBI.

Pepper and sheriff’s patrol Lt. Aaron Wuitschick said robberies, particularly at convenience stores, seem to increase between October and December, although Pepper acknowledged that explaining the correlation “is not an exact science.”

Wuitschick believes there are several factors in why the number of robberies increase near the end of the year.

“Some of the seasonal work is no longer available for people who rely on it,” Wuitschick said. “The nights are a bit little bit longer and people want to have more money for the holidays.”

Also, more people are shopping during the holiday season, which means there’s more money exchanging hands, he said.

Pepper said YPD offered the class last year after a rash of robberies but decided this year to get ahead of the trend and offer the help as they head toward the time of year when robberies are more likely to happen.

Kush Hans, who owns the AM/PM store at the corner of South 16th and West Washington avenues, said the program was good, but more business people should have attended. His business has been robbed in the past, and he said it is better for the police and business owners to come together beforehand to discuss robbery prevention tactics rather than have that discussion after a robbery has happened.

One thing Hans has done to deter robbers is to lock the store’s door at night, so the clerk can spot potential robbers before they get inside.

Pepper declined to go into details about what tips were offered to business owners for fear of tipping off robbers to security techniques, but he said the goal was to help them make their stores safer beforehand.

“We want them to be safe, to be good witnesses and try to learn preventative things that could help them to keep these events from occurring,” Pepper said.

Wuitschick said some of the steps owners can take are increasing the quality and amount of lighting around their stores at night to improve visibility, as well as removing posters and signs from windows, which allows passersby and police to see if anything is amiss in the store.

“If they’re concealed, they can do something bad,” Wuitschick said.

Surveillance cameras can help identify robbery suspects, especially the newer systems that use digital-recording technology and high-definition video cameras to record what is happening both inside and outside a store, Wuitschick said.

The In & Out Mini Mart on Tieton Drive has a screen people can see that shows them the camera views, letting them know that actions at the store are being recorded, owner Hani “Sonny” Salha said. His door is also equipped with a sensor that activates a buzzer any time the door is opened.

If a robbery happens, Wuitschick said the best thing a store owner can do is to cooperate with the robber, hand over the money and pay attention to what they look like, what they’re wearing and which way they went when they left.

“No amount of money is worth your life,” Wuitschick said. “Cooperate with them to the point where you can keep yourself safe.”

Sam Ali, who owns the Training Center Chevron and Bullseye Burgers near Selah, agrees. Along with keeping his business well lit, minimal cash in the till and two employees on site at all times, Ali also stresses giving the robber the money with no argument.

“The two times I was robbed, the perpetrator was armed,” Ali said. “You don’t want to get the robber agitated.”

But cooperation is not a guarantee that a robbery won’t turn violent.

On April 6, 2017, Vikram Jaryal was shot and killed during a robbery at the AM/PM at the corner of North Sixth Street and East Yakima Avenue. Police said Jaryal complied with the demands for cash but was still shot. The case remains unsolved.

Salha, who owns the In & Out Mini Mart on Tieton Drive, said the best deterrence is to resist robbers rather than become known as an easy mark.

“You don’t fight back, they keep coming,” said Salha, who successfully fought off two robbery attempts in his 12 years operating the store.

He had robbers come in twice, and each time he fought back the would-be robbers left empty-handed. In February 2017, two armed, masked men came into his store, and Salha opened fire on them, leaving a bullet hole in his front door, a shot Salha believes went between the robber’s legs.

“When you work seven days a week, 18 hours a day, it’s hard to let someone come in and take your money,” Salha said.

While authorities say people can legally defend themselves in a robbery, Hans and police believe that cooperation is still the safer route.

“There is nothing in the store that is worth a human life,” Hans said.

Reach Donald W. Meyers at dmeyers@yakimaherald.com or on Twitter: donaldwmeyers, or https://www.facebook.com/donaldwmeyersjournalist/