Prince George's, U-Md. police beef up patrols after robberies near campus

By Matt Zapotosky
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 10, 2010

Police in Prince George's County and at the University of Maryland are beefing up patrols and considering forming a task force after a rash of armed robberies near the campus.

In the past three weeks, Prince George's police have recorded five robberies in the College Park area -- at least three involving student victims, authorities said. The crimes have prompted police to beef up patrols and urge students to be vigilant, especially when walking alone at night.

"We're obviously concerned for their safety, and we want to make sure that there are no more robberies," said Maj. Robert Liberati, commander of the Prince George's police district that encompasses College Park. "This many students are of course going to stick out, and I think we do go through a bit of this every year at the beginning of the semester."

None of the robberies occurred on the U-Md. campus, and police have recorded 19 robberies this year in the College Park area, down from 22 at this point last year. Still, U-Md. police are publicizing the cases to encourage students to stay vigilant, and the university police chief, David B. Mitchell, said he was considering organizing a task force to focus on the problem.

The most recent robberies occurred within minutes of each other Monday night, and investigators think the same people might be responsible for both. In each case, police said, two people were robbed at gunpoint -- the first at 10:25 p.m. on a trail in the 9400 block of Osage Street, the next at 10:29 p.m. in the 5100 block of Navahoe Street, Liberati said.

According to a campus news alert, none of the victims had any university affiliations, and all were walking home. Liberati said he was not sure whether the victims were students.

Elisa DeCesaris, 21, a senior psychology major, said that she has a friend who lives in the area where the most recent robberies occurred and that she used to regularly walk on the trail. Seeing the news alert, she said, "hit a little closer to home than usual," and it reminded her to be aware as she walks off campus.

"We've always been told to be conscious of our surroundings," she said. "It's not a change. . . . It's starting to be in places that we know."

The three other robberies involved student victims. About 2 a.m. Saturday, police said, four people tackled a student who was walking on Hartwick Road at Princeton Avenue and took cash from his wallet.

The incident was similar to an Aug. 29 robbery in which five people attacked three students waiting at a bus stop on Berwyn House Road about 1:30 a.m., police said. Two of the students were able to run away, but the third was punched several times and robbed of cash, police said. It was unclear whether the cases are connected, Liberati said.

Police have made arrests in one case -- a robbery that occurred about 1 a.m. Aug. 27 in the 8600 block of Baltimore Avenue, Liberati said. Three students were mugged, he said. Two people were arrested and charged with robbery -- Makthe Ndongo, 22, of Greenbelt and a 15-year-old -- and officers have a warrant for a third suspect, Theo Davis, 23, of Northwest Washington. Patrol officers found Ndongo and the 15-year-old in the area shortly after the robbery, authorities said.

Students milling around the U-Md. campus Thursday said they were being extra careful on late-night walks alone and were trying to travel in groups when possible, although the robberies had hardly gripped the campus with fear. College Park, many students said, has several robberies every year; it's only unusual that they have come in such a spurt at the beginning of the school year.

"Last year, they kind of tended to kind of come at a steady pace, but more spread out," said Alex Gran, 19, a sophomore history major. "I've never felt unsafe on campus. It's only when you get off campus."

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