Trying to stop an uptick in robberies “before it gets out of control,” the District’s police chief and mayor announced on Wednesday a new law enforcement task force to quickly identify assailants who may be responsible for multiple incidents.
The group — which includes a D.C. officer embedded with Metro Transit Police and a prosecutor whose sole job is to handle robberies — is designed to target and prevent attacks in which one person or a group rob several victims, sometimes in a single night.
“The task force will respond in real time to what looks like a robbery spree in progress,” D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said at a news conference outside the Eastern Market Metro station.
D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier said the task force, which started working in mid-December, quickly pulls together information from patrol officers to identify robbery trends “so one doesn’t become a spree, so one doesn’t become six.”
The initiative is designed to confront one of the consistently high crime categories in the District and one that has plagued residents in many neighborhoods across the city. Areas hit hard last year included Columbia Heights, Chevy Chase, Brookland and Foggy Bottom.
Bowser, who was joined by the chiefs of the D.C. and Metro Transit police, prosecutors, the D.C. attorney general and two D.C. Council members, detailed her plan in the Capitol Hill neighborhood where a spate of robberies last year sparked fear and outrage and drew hundreds to a combative community meeting.
The mayor said that though slightly more robberies occurred in 2015 than in 2014, they are down over the long term. Last year ended with 22 percent fewer robberies than in 2007, when there were more than 4,400, she noted. During that time, the District’s population grew 12 percent.
But, Bowser said, “we can and must do better so every D.C .neighborhood is safer.”
Residents at least year’s Capitol Hill crime meeting demanded not only increased help from police but also accountability from prosecutors, judges and agencies that monitor those awaiting trial and convicts free on supervised release. Bowser and Lanier have supported finding ways for the average citizen to more easily learn about the outcomes of court cases.
Part of that effort is helped, the mayor said, by combining resources to target robberies. Lanier said the city needs to “focus on this effort before it gets out of control.”
The chief noted the task force began work Dec. 11 and the next day arrested a suspect charged in two bank robberies committed on the same day in Northwest. She said the coordination between her officers and Metro officers also has paid off, noting that a man arrested in a recent street robbery was quickly identified as a suspect in a string of robberies aboard Metro’s Orange and Blue lines.
“We were able to connect the dots very quickly,” said Metro Transit Police Chief Ronald A. Pavlik.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Tischner, chief of the D.C. Superior Court division, said there are 300 people charged with robbery going through the District’s judicial system “right now as we speak.” He added: “Apparently that number is not large enough. There are others out there.”