Police to add local focus after jump in robberies

City and University police are increasing scrutiny on the Foggy Bottom area in response to a spate of street robberies of expensive electronic items around campus, city and University police officials said.

Seven University Crime Alerts for street robberies have been sent out since Jan. 19 – four of which have come in the last 16 days. Except for February, GW had sent no more than two Crime Alerts in any given month over the past year, and in response to the jump in reported crimes, police are shifting their focus.

Teams of Metropolitan Police officers – both on the ground and in patrol cars – are focusing attention on “suspicious-looking juveniles” in the area, Lt. Alesia Wheeler-Moore said in an interview Tuesday. Suspicious behavior could refer to groups that appear to be targeting individuals, Wheeler-Moore said.

Frank Demes, assistant university police chief, said in an e-mail Wednesday that UPD continues to monitor the crimes and will make further staffing decisions “based on a review of the situation.” UPD had already increased attention on the west side of campus – where many of the crimes have been reported – The Hatchet reported in early February.

“We have increased GWPD’s staffing presence and equally important we are working to educate the GW community about how to prevent these crimes,” Demes said.

Six of the seven Crime Alerts sent out by the University this calendar year described suspects as black males, and five reported suspects to be juveniles. The other two did not list estimated ages of the suspects.

“We are focusing directly on the suspects,” Wheeler-Moore said. “[Many of them] are young black males between the ages of 13 all the way up to 20.”

The rate of unarmed robberies has been risen notably since 2005, when 10 robberies without the use of a gun were reported in the Police Service Area 207, which encompasses the Foggy Bottom campus. In 2009, 27 were reported, and eight have been reported through February 2010, according to the Metropolitan Police Department’s crime map Web site.

But while the numbers are growing, Wheeler-Moore said the robberies don’t appear to be targeted specifically at GW students.

“It’s just whoever is an easy target at that time, that’s who they’re making their victims,” Wheeler-Moore said. “That’s just society today, everyone’s using electronics, talking on the phone, using iPods, Googling things, online on their cell phones.”

Demes also said the presence of electronics with a value of more than $500 is a factor in terms of the area being popular for these robberies.

“The fact that these items are hand-held and unsecured is also a factor, and the state of the economy historically has been a factor in crime rates,” Demes said.

Foggy Bottom is not becoming more dangerous, Wheeler-Moore said, adding that the proximity of the Foggy Bottom Metro station may explain why robberies have been reportedly occuring on the west side of campus.

“What we think is happening is that they’re coming over in groups and they’re splitting up into little mini groups,” Wheeler-Moore said. “We’re having our officers stop [suspicious groups] and briefly speak with them and ask them for their information and what they’re doing.”

Demes said there is no proof or indication that the suspects entered the Metro station after committing a crime.

“They fled in that general direction. We have notified our officers and are watching that area and monitoring trends,” Demes said.

Foggy Bottom Association Vice President and current GW senior Lev Trubkovich said he is working to create a community neighborhood watch to try and prevent some of these issues. Trubkovich, who also serves as the chair of the FBA Committee for Public Safety, said he is in the process of organizing interested community members.

“The spike in robberies our neighborhood experienced last week should be alarming to us all. But it should also be examined and understood,” Trubkovich said in an e-mail, deeming the recent crime alert reports “crimes of opportunity.”

A neighborhood watch would help protect citizens and curtail crimes committed in the absence of other people’s presence, Trubkovich said.

“An upward trend like this is something I am sure our outstanding MPD officers will plan to mitigate, but they can’t be everywhere,” Trubkovich said. “A tried-and-true nationwide program that gets the citizens involved like neighborhood watch is not a panacea, but it’s a start, and has had the widest success in battling just such crimes of opportunity.”

Wheeler-Moore said MPD has partnered with the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority to address the issues, and said that she is working on scheduling a Metro representative to address the community at the March ANC 2A community meeting.

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