Robberies On Mall A Trend, Chief Says
Holdups Occurring In D.C. Areas Once Considered Safe

By Allison Klein and Petula Dvorak
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, July 13, 2006; A01

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."

Police said that was the case in Georgetown early Sunday, when British activist Alan Senitt, 27, was fatally slashed in a holdup. Four suspects are in custody, all from other parts of the city.

As Ramsey used his emergency powers to adjust officers' schedules to boost patrols, the D.C. Council approved a plan to hire the additional 350 police officers. The vote was 12 to 1, with Kathy Patterson (D-Ward 3) saying she voted no because the funding is based on revenue projections and is not currently available. She also said that it takes years to boost the force by such numbers. Ramsey said he can hire about 100 officers a year.

Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) sponsored the legislation, which, coupled with earlier legislation sponsored by Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), means the council has approved hiring a total of 450 new officers at a cost of $28 million.

"At the end of the day, people want more visible officers on the street," Evans said.

Crime has not been a major issue in the D.C. mayor's race. The five major Democratic candidates have been focusing more closely on education, affordable housing and jobs.

Yesterday, three of the five -- D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp, council member Adrian M. Fenty (Ward 4) and lobbyist Michael A. Brown -- said they would respond to the crisis by increasing police presence in neighborhoods. But the three, plus former Verizon executive Marie C. Johns, also said that the city should have more summer jobs, better schools and longer hours at summer camps and other recreation programs to give children something constructive to do. The fifth candidate, council member Vincent B. Orange Sr. (Ward 5), did not return phone calls.

On Capitol Hill, Wolf, the chairman of a House Appropriations subcommittee, called for President Bush to convene a summit of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to address the problem.

"The level of violence the District of Columbia continues to experience is alarming, whether it be in the poorest of neighborhoods in the city or on the National Mall," Wolf wrote in a letter to Bush.

Similar views were expressed by Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), who noted that the attacks on the Mall could have economic consequences for the city.

"When this message of crime on the Mall gets amplified, it can kill our economy," Norton said. In the past, she said, tourists got the message that D.C. crime was confined to economically depressed neighborhoods and that hotels, museums and restaurants were safe.

Ed Rudzinski, chairman of the board of the D.C. Hotel Association, said no groups have pulled out of the city because of the crime emergency.

"There's been absolutely no effect on business so far," Rudzinski said. "Not even a peep." Rudzinski is general manager of the largest hotel in the city -- the Marriott Wardman Park on Connecticut Avenue NW.

But he cautioned that Georgetown is one of the big draws for attendees of meetings, large conventions and tourists. "For a gentleman to get his throat slashed in Georgetown, it's a scary thing, because that's where tourists want to go," Rudzinski said. "We're going to have to do some damage control."

Staff writers Dana Hedgpeth, Tom Jackman, Ernesto LondoƱo, Lori Montgomery, Ylan Q. Mui and Nikita Stewart contributed to this report.

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