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Camera crew robbed outside iconic San Francisco bookstore

A storefront of City Lights Books with a man walking by.
A Czech camera crew was robbed at gunpoint Sunday outside City Lights Bookstore, police said. | Source: Getty Images

A camera crew from the Czech Republic was robbed at gunpoint Sunday outside San Francisco's City Lights Bookstore, casting an unwelcome light on public safety in the city as it welcomes dignitaries and diplomats for this week's Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.

According to police, officers responded to a report of an armed robbery at Columbus Avenue near Broadway. Officers arrived outside City Lights bookstore within two minutes and found two Czech journalists and several camera crew members, who said three people carrying guns got out of a vehicle that stopped nearby. After all three demanded the crew's equipment, they handed it over. The suspects fled in the vehicle shortly before officers arrived, police said.

In a statement Monday, police said the department's robbery unit was investigating, adding that the department was working with other city agencies to help the victims. The San Francisco Chronicle identified two of the Czech reporters as Milan Nosek and Bohumil Vostal, who estimated the value of the lost equipment at $18,000.

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A communications director for San Francisco Mayor London Breed's office expressed empathy and resolve in equal measures, telling The Standard that the mayor met with the Czech journalists to share her concern and offer the city's support.

"We don’t want anyone in our city to be a victim of any crime, whether they are a visitor or a resident," spokesman Jeff Cretan said, adding that the city was working to support the camera crew and help with equipment.

"Our police department is actively investigating this case, and we know that when an arrest is made, our district attorney has taken a strong position of aggressively prosecuting crimes like these."

After referencing the arrest and prosecution of suspects accused of last month's gunpoint takeover robbery of a Noe Valley doughnut shop, Cretan added that “[p]eople who think they can commit these kinds of crimes in San Francisco should know that they will be arrested and prosecuted for their crimes.”

San Francisco officials have sought to roll out the welcome mat for foreign journalists coming to town for the APEC summit. The hope is that they will see the good sides of the city and transmit those messages back home, reversing some of the negative publicity San Francisco has received recently over issues including crime, homelessness and drug use.

The city is putting on a foreign press party Thursday night at City Hall, for instance, and appointed a press ambassador to help foreign journalists navigate the city during the APEC events.

Other camera crews have been robbed in the city in recent years, including a CNN television crew who had their car broken into outside City Hall in March while filming a segment about crime in San Francisco. 

In June, filmmaker Eli Steele took to Twitter to blast San Francisco police and crime after his car was broken into and $30,000 worth of camera equipment was stolen near Lombard and Hyde streets, a wealthy area popular with tourists.