D.C. police are increasing patrols, creating a squad of detectives and boosting rewards to battle a recent surge in robberies, Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey announced yesterday.
Speaking at a news conference on a Northwest Washington street corner, Ramsey said the number of robberies has jumped across the city in recent months. Authorities reported 408 robberies in September, up 43 percent from 284 in June. So far this year, the number of robberies is running about 3 percent higher than last year -- the only category in which crime is up, police statistics show.
"We are talking serious numbers in terms of increase," Ramsey said. "If we don't nip this in the bud, it's only going to get worse."
Ramsey said he was establishing rewards of $5,000 for information leading to arrests and convictions of robbery suspects. That amount will increase to $10,000 if a robbery victim is injured, the chief said. Police typically have limited rewards to homicide cases, although the nonprofit group Crime Solvers has distributed rewards of $1,000 for information that solves a variety of cases, including holdups.
A squad of 14 detectives will focus only on robberies, police officials said, and will pay special attention to repeat offenders, who can commit dozens of robberies before being caught.
Police officials blamed the recent spike on ex-offenders recently released from custody. Ramsey said juveniles also might be responsible for a sizable share of the increase. Some youths are competing with each other to see who can commit the most robberies, he said.
Some neighborhoods have been hit particularly hard. Yesterday's announcement was made at 14th and U streets NW, in the 3rd District, one of the areas where the problem has been growing.
The news conference was organized by Kenneth E. Barnes Sr., a community activist whose son, Kenneth E. Barnes Jr., was slain in a robbery just blocks away in September 2001. He and other community leaders met recently with top police officials to find ways to address the "terrible upsurge in crime and violence," he said.
A crowd of frustrated business owners and residents attended the event, with many asking pointed questions of police officials.
A half-dozen residents of Logan Circle complained that police were not conducting enough patrols or responding quickly enough to their calls for help. Sometimes, they said, police never show up.
"When are we going to feel protected?" Kevin Ivers, a Logan Circle resident, asked Ramsey. "We feel like sitting ducks out there."
Business owners who work in the U Street corridor said the increase in crime is driving away customers.
Negash Shifraw said he has witnessed robberies, drug dealing, car thefts and a shooting in recent months near his Ethiopian restaurant, Abiti, in the 1900 block of Ninth Street NW. He said police sometimes drive down the street but rarely stop. "It is really hurting business," Shifraw said.
Ramsey, who has resisted a plan before the D.C. Council to boost his force by 1,600 officers, said he would support a more "modest increase" in staffing.
Council members Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) and Adrian M. Fenty (D-Ward 4) have introduced a bill to increase the 3,800-member department by 500 officers.
Graham, who spoke before Ramsey at the news conference, said he has grown tired of hearing residents ask, "Where are the police?"
"There are just not enough of them," he said.