By Theola Labbé-DeBose
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 13, 2008
D.C. police say they are seeing a growing number of teenagers and young adults traveling in groups to assault and rob unsuspecting citizens, a trend that mirrors crimes in cities across the country.
In an eight-hour period last week, five people were attacked by juveniles in separate incidents, including an armed carjacking, in the Southwest waterfront neighborhood. And in the past month, there have been between seven and 11 "pack robberies" in or near Adams Morgan in Northwest Washington, Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier said.
Similar attacks have occurred in the Brookland area of Northeast and Chinatown. Police said the crimes are not necessarily related but are part of an increase that has led to heightened enforcement.
"They're looking for someone who has a cellphone or someone using an iPod. Or they're just looking for some fast cash or a credit card," Lanier said Friday at a news conference in Adams Morgan, where she announced that there will be more patrols there. "You'll have a lone person walking, and there are five young males or more, and it's ridiculous. There's no need to beat people in those circumstances, but that's what they do. Just senseless."
The attacks in Southwest unfolded between 5 p.m. Monday and 1 a.m. Tuesday. The trouble began when five teenagers on bicycles attacked a man from behind, pushed him to the ground, hit him in the face and stomach, and fled. Police said they think that the attackers were between 16 and 18 years old.
A 52-year-old lawyer suffered serious head trauma after four to six teenagers beat him in the 1000 block of Sixth Street SW about 9 p.m. Monday. Later Monday, also in Southwest, two teenagers stuck a gun in a man's face, slapped him and demanded his belongings, police said. After the victim said he didn't have anything, the teenagers fled, police said.
In another incident, a man was hit in the head from behind with a brick. And three youths confronted a Southwest resident early Tuesday in the 200 block of I Street SW, surprising him after he parked his car at an apartment building. After forcing a gun to his head, the youths stole $20 and his car and led a U.S. Capitol Police official on a chase until they crashed the car, authorities said. Canine units eventually forced Raymond Sturgis, 17, of the 200 block of K Street SW out of hiding, and he has been charged as an adult.
Irv Gamza, 83, who has lived in Southwest for more than four decades, said crimes committed by teenagers have become more serious in the past several years. "First they just annoy or harass people. Then they start getting physical. And then they rob," Gamza said.
Gamza, who is a member of the police Citizens' Advisory Council, said that if anyone in the neighborhood claims not to be afraid of groups of roaming juveniles, they "are just lying to themselves."
"You have some juveniles who are not bothering anyone. And you have some where you don't know under what condition you're going to have a problem," he said.
At a national violent-crime summit last week, sponsored by the nonprofit Police Executive Research Forum, police chiefs exchanged stories about the spate of robberies and juvenile crimes, Executive Director Chuck Wexler said.
In recent years, police in the District and other cities have dealt with spikes in robberies. Although the numbers posted by cities across the country decreased in the past two years, they remain higher than in 2004, Wexler said. In the District this year, there were 3,180 robberies as of Sept. 30, roughly the same as last year. The numbers for the month of September were up, however -- 413 compared with 388 last year -- based on preliminary statistics on the police Web site.
"Robbery is the number one crime accelerating across the country in large, medium and small areas," Wexler said.
The Police Executive Research Forum, which tracks statistics in 56 cities, has pinpointed an "explosive increase" of juveniles participating in robberies, Wexler said. In Minneapolis, police and government officials created a juvenile unit just to deal with the rising crime in that area, he said.
Lanier, who attended the crime summit, was struck by the parallels between the recent attacks in the District and those in other cities.
"I talked to a lot of chiefs at a conference the other day -- there were 180 chiefs and sheriffs from around the country -- and every one was saying the same thing: that this has become a real crime trend," Lanier said.
Bryan Weaver, an advisory neighborhood commissioner in Adams Morgan, said he is concerned that more robberies are occurring on neighborhood streets away from the main commercial strip along 18th Street NW.
"Right now, the major concern of residents is that people are putting guns to their faces when they're coming home from work or dinner," he said.
Staff writers Paul Duggan and Martin Weil contributed to this report.