Ambridge police chief went undercover in attempt to catch person who robbed 2 people at knifepoint |

Ambridge police chief went undercover in attempt to catch person who robbed 2 people at knifepoint

Ambridge Police Chief James Mann walked the streets for hours, praying that a knife-wielding robber who had attacked two people would pick him as the next victim.

“It would not have ended well for him,” Mann said. “I was really hoping he’d come after me. It would have been unfortunate for him to show up at a gunfight with a knife.”

The attacks happened Wednesday night on Merchant Street in downtown Ambridge.

Police Friday arrested an Ambridge man on unrelated robbery charges, but Mann believes the suspect soon will be charged with the earlier knife attacks as well. Authorities will show the victims photo lineups including the suspect, Mann said.

Mann did not release names of victims or the suspect.

In the first attack, at 8:23 p.m., a man confronted a man in an alley, stuck a knife under his chin and demanded money, Mann said. The victim pushed the attacker away and ran away unharmed.

One block away and less than two hours later, a robber attacked a 60-year-old Aliquippa man at a bus stop, stabbing the victim twice in the arm and once in the back. The victim is recovering in a Pittsburgh hospital, Mann said.

“When I learned that an individual had been severely stabbed, I called the guys and met them at the station,” Mann said. “… We can’t tolerate that.”

Mann worried about more attacks because it was the night before Thanksgiving.

“That’s the busiest bar night of the year, and I was concerned for the safety of the people walking around,” Mann said. “We have bars on every block of our Main Street, and there were a lot of people walking through this area when the two robberies occurred. There were a lot of targets for this guy.”

So Mann tried to bait the slashing robber.

He dressed in jeans, a fleece jacket and a baseball hat, “to blend in,” he said. “I wanted to look like an easy target.”

Then, he walked every dark alley he could find, waiting for someone to leap out at him.

He approached bank ATMs to make it look like he was withdrawing cash.

He carried his police radio and wore a vest but told officers to stay four blocks clear. He walked from 11 p.m. until after 2 a.m., when the bars emptied and closed and the streets fell silent.

Police arrested the suspect after a botched robbery during a drug deal at his house, officials said.

“I think we got our guy,” Mann said. “He was staying in a house, basically a block away from the attacks, with his grandmother. She gave consent, and we found a bunch of knives in there. He’s pretty stupid, to be honest with you.”

Chris Togneri is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-380-5632 or [email protected].

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