Update on Robberies in Glover Park and Upper NW DC

At the January 12, 2012 ANC 3B meeting, MPD representatives presented information on and addressed community questions about recent robberies in Glover Park, Upper NW DC, and Bethesda.   That same night, MPD representatives appeared at the ANC 3E meeting and provided additional information.   The notes below contain a detailed summary of information provided by MPD at that meeting.  

The presentation was made by:
Chief of Police Cathy Lanier: cathy.lanier@dc.gov
Second District Commander Michael E. Reese: michael.reese@dc.gov
Commander Criminal Investigations Divison George Kucik: george.kucik@dc.gov
Montgomery County Captain David Falcinelli

Summary of presentation:

Although there was been a 12% decrease in robberies in late 2011, there has been a spike in robberies in upper NW and Bethesda. The MO is typically the same. Usually 2 black males will approach victims on a quiet, dimly lit street between the hours of 6-11PM. They will sometimes hide in bushes or in the dark and then force the victim to lie on the ground. The robberies often involve a handgun. Sometimes the robbers will drive up and get out of a car before accosting their victim. The victims targeted are usually single pedestrians (or a pair of pedestrians) or someone just getting out of their car. The robbers usually wear a ski mask or hood. The entire robbery generally takes less than 60 seconds. The robbers use a getaway car that is generally parked a few blocks away. Several car descriptions were given, such as a dark Mitsubishi, but Chief Lanier cautioned that the car will likely not be the same from robbery-to-robbery because the criminals generally use a stolen car (or stolen tags) and will replace the car with a new stolen car after a few days. The robberies are occurring in upper Northwest DC, such as AU Park, but also across the line in Montgomery County. The criminals are choosing this area because it is “target rich.” Chief Lanier speculated that the increase is related to the near-epidemic spike in our area of smash-and-grab thefts from vehicles of mobile devices (laptops, IPads, smart phones, portable GPS’s, etc.), which are lucrative to criminals and easily fenced. She further speculated that these smash-and-grab criminals are “stepping up their game” to robbery because the area has proven to be so profitable. The remainder of these notes describes the question/answer session which roughly centered around what the police are doing and what citizens should do to help stop the robberies.

What are the police doing in response to the spike in robberies?

1. Increased marked car patrols in the area.
2. Increased plainclothes presence in the area. The police were understandably reticent to provide detailss about the increased plainclothes presence so as not to alert the criminals to the specific methods used by the police.
3. Increased research on criminals recently released from prison with similar MOs to the recent robberies.
4. Checking fingerprints from crime scenes against fingerprint databases to try to identify suspects.
5. Elevate all 911 calls for “suspicious person/activity” to priority 1, which means they will be responded to very quickly.
6. Increased coordinated with Montgomery County police.

What should we citizens do?

1. If you are robbed, comply quickly and quietly with the robber’s demands. This is the best way to prevent getting hurt. It’s not worth getting hurt over a smartphone.
2. Avoid walking in dimly lit areas and be very careful getting into and out of your car.
3. Be hyper-vigilant of your surroundings, especially after dark and during the hours in which the robberies have been occurring (6-11PM).
4. Call 911 if you see anything that looks suspicious. In particular watch out for things like unusual cars in the neighborhood that may be getaway cars, indicating the robbers are nearby. Trust your gut instincts – if something doesn’t look quite right, call 911 and let the police sort it out. The police emphasized this point repeatedly that it is much better to call 911 and be wrong about something suspicious than to not call 911 and be right about something suspicious. This is one area where we can really help. The police need us to be the eyes and ears of the neighborhood as we are best positioned to know if something doesn’t seem quite right.
5.If you get an unsatisfactory response to your 911 call, contact the 2D watch commander at 202-438-4421. The watch commander will run it down and make it right. This is very important as several residents provided vivid anecdotes about dismissive 911 operators that, had these situations been promptly addressed, might have helped break the case.
6. Try to get in the habit of observing and remembering details if you see something odd. One resident mentioned that it is a good idea to try to get in the habit of memorizing license plate numbers, vehicle descriptions, etc. so that it becomes second nature. The police indicated that even partial license plate number or just the state of issue are valuable pieces of information for police because they have software they can plug this information into that will fill in the missing information.
7. Consider establishing a neighborhood watch. There is a woman named Samantha Nolan who has been very active at assisting DC neighborhoods in setting up a neighborhood watch program. She can be reached at 202-244-2620, or at Nolantutor@yahoo.com. In the meantime, we should all self-deputize ourselves as neighborhood watchers, particularly those of us who are dog walkers, runners, cyclists, and otherwise have a built-in reason to be observing the neighborhood.
8. Sign up for and monitor the MPD listserv at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/MPD-2D/. The police cautioned that it takes a few days for crimes to be reported on mapping sites (e.g., https://www.crimereports.com/). Note that http://crimemap.dc.gov/presentation/intro.asp is down until further notice.
9. Mace is legal in DC according to the police. Whether carrying it would be effective (and safe) against 2 armed robbers is a matter for your own conscience. The police did not weigh in on this point.
10. Do not leave any items of value in the car. Our area has become “target-rich” because so many people leave expensive items in their cars. If the criminals stop routinely finding these items in our cars, they will eventually get frustrated and move on.
11. Cameras work. If you have a private surveillance system (cameras), monitor it closely if you suspect any suspicious activity and notify police. The police indicated that surveillance tapes often help break cases.

Chief Lanier said the robbers will eventually be caught but it will require a concerted effort by both police and citizens. Please share the notes above with any of your neighbors who do not have access to the listservs.

— Ed Hoke (AU Park resident)