The recent uptick in robberies has been much more than another crime statistic for residents in many District neighborhoods.
Robberies are up 3 percent this year over the same period last year, according to police figures. But safety concerns have increased much more in areas experiencing the crime, as police officers and community members report seeing younger, bolder suspects.
This month, Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey assembled a special robbery unit, stepped up street patrols and increased the reward for information related to robberies.
The same week Ramsey made his announcement, three coordinated armed robberies occurred in Logan Circle in Northwest Washington on Oct. 19. In the first incident, two people were robbed at gunpoint at 6 a.m. at 12th and N Streets NW. That was followed by robberies that occurred 30 minutes apart, the first at 8 a.m. at 14th and Church Streets NW, the second at 13th and S streets NW. Two young women approached a pedestrian and asked for directions, then three young men brandishing guns emerged from hiding and beat the victims, according to police accounts.
The crimes have unnerved Logan Circle residents. One resident, Chris Kohatsu, said she became aware of the increase in robberies about a month ago. She said that the community Internet listserv has been buzzing over public safety issues for the past few months and that the recent robberies have ramped up concerns.
"It's scary for our neighborhood," she said. "It's one thing to be mugged and for someone to just take something. Now people are being beat up, and there are dangerous weapons involved."
Kohatsu said the new rule among her friends is to never walk alone. Other residents are taking cabs more often, she said.
Donald Hawkins, a Logan Circle resident, said he witnessed an attempted armed robbery at 11 p.m. Sunday at Vermont Avenue and Q Street NW. He sent out an e-mail warning his neighbors to stay on thoroughfares, especially after dark. About a dozen of his neighbors responded to his post and said that they had been victims of recent armed robberies.
"My purpose is to let people know that something is going on," he said. "People should know that if they walk down the street at 11 at night, they might get mugged." From now on, Hawkins said, he will walk his dog an hour earlier with a group of friends.
At Georgetown University, a campuswide e-mail urged students and faculty members this month to be "extremely cautious over the next couple of weeks when out at night in public" after a string of robberies near campus. On Oct. 14, four students were robbed, one of whom had a gun put to her head on 33rd Street NW at 9 p.m. Two days later, at 1 a.m., a student was robbed of his wallet and hit on the head while he was walking up 36th Street NW.
Erik Smulson, a Georgetown spokesman, said the university has increased foot patrols and is cooperating with the police department to ensure the safety of students and staff members.
In Columbia Heights, Inspector Pat Burke of the 3rd Police District said the recent arrest of four suspects -- three of whom were juveniles -- has curbed the muggings in that neighborhood. Burke said the suspects committed robberies within a few blocks of where they live in Columbia Heights.
Burke said it's troubling that so many of the suspects are juveniles. "Unfortunately, these aren't one-and-done types of capers," he said. "You have chronic recidivists out there, and it's a citywide problem."
Last week, police arrested two juveniles in connection with three armed robberies that took place in a little over an hour in Southeast and Northeast Washington. Police recovered a BB handgun and a black 1994 Lexus. One of the suspects escaped, police said.
Philip Spaulding, a member of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 1B in Columbia Heights, noted that increased residential and commercial development throughout the District will increase foot traffic and necessitate vigilance.
"People walking to work and being victims of organized crime is something new," he said. "We need to focus on issues of public safety and use common sense."