Police believe a man who robbed the clerk of a Sandy dress shop at knife point Jan. 23 may have spent several minutes in the business next door before fleeing the crime scene.

Officers would have had a better chance of catching the robber if the victim had called the police first, but instead she called the clerk at another store nearby to tell her about the robbery.An immediate call to police might have brought officers roaring into the parking lot while the robber was still sitting next door. "If she would have called right away there's a good chance he could have been snagged," Sandy detective Mike Eldredge said. But it didn't happen that way.

The problem is common, according to dispatchers, patrol officers and detectives from various law enforcement agencies in Salt Lake County.

In the case of the infamous "Top Gun" robber, four of the five robbery victims in Sandy called their store manager or a relative before they called the police, Eldredge said. "That really hurt our response time." The delays were anywhere from four to 15 minutes, he said.

Reporting delays are a particular impediment to police in robbery cases. Many vehicle burglars could be caught in the act or chased away if neighbors would report suspicious people or cars prowling around the neighborhood, he said.

Reporting delays of hours or even days are very common in rape cases. "That, sometimes, is expected" because of the multiple trauma rape victims experience, Eldredge said, but delays always work in the suspect's favor.

"It happens once or twice a week where the time factor is important to us," said Dave Marks, chief dispatcher for the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Department. "We're looking at 10- to 15-minute delays sometimes on armed robberies."

"It happens more often with youth," Marks said. "We routinely get calls from a father whose daughter has just called him and said she got robbed at her job at a convenience store. The time delay just shoots any chance we have of apprehending someone."

The dress shop robber told the clerk she was to give the police a bad description of him because he knew where she lived and knew her husband traveled a lot. A robber matching the description of the dress shop robber held up the clerk at another Sandy business Jan. 27 and told her the same story: "I know who you are and where you live."

Those kinds of threats are common, and while most robbery victims still report the crime, the threat can delay a call to police.

Eldredge said he has never run into a situation where a clerk has been instructed to call a store official before calling police - it just works out that way sometimes.