Robberies On Mall A Trend, Chief Says

Robberies at the Mall
By Allison Klein and Petula Dvorak
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, July 13, 2006

D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey warned yesterday that criminals increasingly are following money to places in the city once considered safe, such as the Mall, where two robbers lay in wait near the Washington Monument before surprising tourists Tuesday night.

The city also recorded its 14th homicide of the month -- a burst of violence that led Ramsey to declare a "crime emergency" Tuesday. A spike in robberies is generating concern in neighborhoods in all quadrants of the District.

"This is a big difference from what we've seen in years past," Ramsey said, noting that criminals tended to stick within a mile of their homes when setting out for a night of robbery or burglary. "And it's a pattern that we've been tracking."

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), back in town after a two-week trip through Africa and Europe, said he and his deputies are working on a strategy to deal with crime and underlying social problems. D.C. Council members, meanwhile, promoted a plan to add 350 officers to the 3,800-member force.

Business leaders fretted about the impact of the recent crimes on tourism, and Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.) called for a White House summit on safety. Ramsey was planning a series of forums, too, vowing that police will meet within a week with residents in all parts of the city.

The attacks on the Mall happened beneath a stand of cherry trees late Tuesday, when the robbers pounced twice along the south slope of the Washington Monument. The holdups followed three highly publicized robberies in May in another area of the Mall where violence had been rare. No arrests have been made in the earlier cases, and police said yesterday that the same people might be responsible.

The first robbery took place about 10 p.m., when two women from Texas were accosted by two men who took their money. At least one assailant had a gun, said Sgt. Scott Fear, a U.S. Park Police spokesman. One woman was groped during the robbery. After the attack, the women hailed a cab and called 911 to report the crime.

Shortly afterward, the robbers struck again, taking cash from a couple and their two school-age children from Missouri, Fear said.

The robbers were in dark clothing, and in the first attack, both had masks. During the second attack, the family said, only one wore a mask.

The crimes are part of a 14 percent jump in robberies this year in the District, including several that have ended in death. Some of the sharpest increases have been in Adams Morgan, Columbia Heights and other densely populated areas north of downtown.

Robberies also are up in some of the region's largest suburban jurisdictions, including Fairfax County, which has experienced a 30 percent increase in holdups this year, and Montgomery County, which has had a 10 percent rise.

Ramsey said Washington's rapid economic growth means "more people are coming into the city, and different areas are being populated. And criminals are aware of that." Arrest patterns, he said, show a "trend where more and more people are being arrested in neighborhoods they do not live in."

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