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Burglaries Have Surged 21 Percent

Police Put Some Blame on Economy, Boost Patrols; Overall Violence Falls

"It's easy cash," Assistant Police Chief Diane Groomes says of burglaries. "Unlike a robbery, you generally don't have someone looking at you, so it's easier to get away with it." (By Gerald Martineau -- The Washington Post)
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By Allison Klein and Dan Keating
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, April 20, 2008; Page C01

Burglaries are on the rise in the District, with police blaming the souring economy as a contributing factor in a 21 percent increase in break-ins over the same period last year.

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Criminals are jimmying locks, kicking in front doors, breaking through roof hatches and skylights, and sometimes even sawing security bars off windows to get into houses and businesses, police said. They are hauling off computers, flat-screen televisions, jewelry, digital media players and other items, which they then sell.

Police data show that 922 burglaries were reported in the city in the first quarter of the year, compared with 761 in the same span last year. The biggest increases have been reported on Capitol Hill and in neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River, including Congress Heights.

Overall violence, however, is dipping across the city, with homicides down by 11 percent this year. With the busier summer months approaching, police are trying to get a handle on the burglary problem while keeping violence down.

"It's the burglaries that are getting us this year," said Cmdr. Joel Maupin, who heads the 7th District, in the southernmost area east of the Anacostia River in Ward 8.

Assistant Police Chief Diane Groomes said someone looking to commit a crime for money might find burglaries more appealing than a face-to-face street robbery. Most of the burglaries have occurred during the day or when no one is on the premises.

"It's easy cash," said Groomes, who tracks trends as head of patrol operations. "And unlike a robbery, you generally don't have someone looking at you, so it's easier to get away with it."

Chuck Wexler, executive director of the District-based Police Executive Research Forum, said the sluggish economy could be spurring property crimes, an assessment shared by some police officials.

"It's an indicator of how economics can have some impact on crime," Wexler said. "The reality is, there is not a clear line you can draw between unemployment and poverty and crime, but there are some types of crime -- burglaries, for example -- that lend themselves to fencing."

Most police departments in major cities focus on violent crime, he said. "When you put resources into violent crime, it inevitably means something else doesn't get the same attention," Wexler said.

In the 1st Police District -- which includes Capitol Hill and the area around the new Nationals ballpark -- an average of 55 break-ins were reported monthly through March of this year, compared with 39 a month in the same period last year.

Cmdr. David Kamperin, who heads that district, said he created a street-crimes unit in February in part to combat the break-ins. His officers have since arrested four suspects and tied them to 30 burglaries, he said. They also have recovered more than $2,600 worth of stolen goods from pawn shops, mostly in Prince George's County.

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