Deaf D.C. Residents Hit By 8 Home Break-Ins

By Allison Klein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 30, 2008

Deaf people have been victims in a rash of home break-ins near Gallaudet University in Northeast Washington, putting students on edge and prompting police to increase enforcement in the area.

At least eight burglaries or attempted break-ins have been reported in the past two weeks, police said. Laptops, cellphones and cameras have disappeared; in one incident, thieves made off with a midnight snack from the refrigerator.

The crimes are taking place in the area of Eighth Street NE, often after midnight, police reports show.

The house that Gallaudet student Julia Velasquez shares with two roommates was broken into early Wednesday. Electronics, money, wallets "and our sense of security" were stolen, she wrote in an e-mail.

Burglaries are up 15 percent in the immediate area where Velasquez and her roommates live and have increased 26 percent across the 1st Police District, which includes Capitol Hill. In an adjoining area where some of the victims live, burglaries are up 58 percent, police data show.

The police department's Deaf and Hard of Hearing Unit, whose members know sign language, is helping victims communicate with officers and educating them about personal safety. In several burglaries, intruders entered through unsecured doors and windows.

Acting Lt. Brett Parson, who oversees the department's specialty liaison squads, said officers in the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Unit are passing out fliers and going to neighborhood meetings to answer questions and update residents on recent crimes.

"There is concern that the community they work closely with has suffered a victimization, and we want to make sure they get appropriate police service," Parson said.

Police are checking pawnshops and secondhand stores for the stolen goods, and officers have been instructed to increase traffic stops in the neighborhood. Police officials said they are combing through a month's worth of burglary reports, looking for similar cases and trying to detect a pattern. Assistant Police Chief Winston Robinson, who is in charge of the detective bureau, said burglars often stick to one method.

"These guys are creatures of habit," he said. "They'll steal the same things in the houses in the same ways."

He also said college students are not always as careful as they should be about personal safety and safeguarding their valuables.

In Velasquez's case, the top bolt on her front door was left unlocked, and the bottom lock was bypassed, a police report says. There were no signs of forced entry, she said.

She said she is not sure whether whoever broke in had been watching the house or just happened to pick the right time.

"When you take the time frame into consideration: 3 a.m. for when the last person went to bed, and 5:30 a.m. for when the final roommate arrived home," she wrote. "Is that a normal pattern? Was it a lucky break for them, or did they truly study our movements?"

© 2008 The Washington Post Company