Prince George's Police Urge Vigilance Against Home Invasion Robberies

By Aaron C. Davis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Home invasion robberies in Prince George's County since the start of the year have more than doubled compared with the same period a year ago, prompting police to take the extraordinary step of recommending that residents vary their routines and take other precautions to keep from becoming victims.

There have been 86 reported home invasion robberies in the county this year, up from 36 at the same time last year. Detectives believe 23 of the crimes reported this year were drug-related, in which victims knew their attackers, and six others are thought to have been false reports. Most, however, targeted innocent civilians.

Chief Roberto L. Hylton urged residents to vary their daily travel patterns, including the times they enter and exit their homes. They also should leave their outside lights on, cut back shrubs that could offer hiding spots and assume the worst when strangers knock -- especially late at night, he said. The police department has drafted a list of tips that it plans to circulate to residents shortly.

"I am the police chief in good times and in bad, and I want to be honest with the public and make sure they are aware of these crimes so we can work together to prevent them," Hylton said. "We have done such a good job of suppressing citizen robberies and managing our burglaries that we think the criminal element in the county has actually adjusted to our strategies and is now focusing on doing home invasions."

Home invasions represent an especially dangerous form of robbery. They often put armed assailants in confined spaces with victims -- out of sight of neighbors, friends or anyone else who could alert police. The assailants often seek to physically overpower their victims.

Although home invasions have made headlines in neighboring Montgomery County and in some areas of Virginia in recent months, those jurisdictions do not appear to have experienced increases like that in Prince George's, according to officials in those jurisdictions. In the District, home invasions are down almost 16 percent from this time last year, from 172 to 145.

Prince George's police declined to provide specifics but said a "fair number" of home invasions this year involved terrifying experiences in which residents were bound with rope or tape. One police source, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly, put the number of such incidents at about 10.

In all, police say, there have been 167 victims in this year's home invasions -- 154 adults and 13 children. Forty-seven of the robberies took place in single-family homes, 36 in apartments, two in hotels and one in a mobile home.

Hylton said that in the bulk of the robberies, suspects appeared to know that someone was home. Only in five has it appeared that residents returned home to find a burglary in progress.

In a disturbing pattern, Hylton said, detectives have determined that some residents might have been followed from public places and confronted when they arrived home by robbers who pushed them inside and held them at bay while they were robbed.

Prince George's police have made arrests in 27 of the 80 confirmed home invasion robberies. That is a closure rate of about 34 percent, above the national average of 21 percent for major metropolitan areas.

The rise in residential robberies follows a 67 percent spike in commercial robberies in the county early in the year, and police think both types of crimes might be tied to the economic downturn.

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