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D.C. robberies up 10%, but frequency down after spike

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The number of robberies committed across the District remains up by about 10 percent this year, though the frequency of such crimes has come down significantly after a notable spike, Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier said.

The type of violent robberies that have caught residents' attention recently -- involving severely-beaten victims -- have not increased, she said.

"We're not seeing any increase in this type of an assault with this serious of an injury," Chief Lanier said, referring to an Aug. 18 attack that left a Capitol Hill man suffering severe head trauma. "This is not something that is on the rise. I think what it is is something that scares the heck out of people."

Noting that violent attacks have happened across the city, she said it's tough to gauge whether they are being committed by the same people.

"From the arrests we've made, there is only a small percent of people that we've arrested who have multiple arrests and are repeat offenders. But who knows how many repeat offenders we haven't caught?" she said.

But looking more broadly at snatch-and-grab robberies, in which items such as cellphones and computers are typically swiped from a victim's hands by a fast-moving thief, police have seen patterns to indicate crimes are being committed by serial robbers.

"We have learned from experience that if we have a spike in the number of robberies in a neighborhood, and we apprehend an offender after an offense, all of a sudden that one offender in custody dramatically drops the number of robberies," Chief Lanier said. "We were doing great and then in July something happened. What was that something that happened? Was it a repeat offender who was released, or was it someone new who moved into the area to start doing crimes from another area?"

The comments were made after the chief spoke to residents Tuesday night about crime in the police department's 1st District, which includes Capitol Hill. More than 200 residents crammed into the Hill Center to hear updates on cases and about strategies the department has undertaken to cut crime.

Across the city, 1,836 robberies that did not involve guns were reported this year through Sunday. Another 823 robberies that did involve the use of a gun were reported during that same time.

Residents were generally thankful for the updates, with several saying they were glad to hear police were taking the robberies seriously.

"We appreciate how your whole team has doubled down," said D.C. Council member Tommy Wells, Ward 6 Democrat.

Among the strategies that have been ongoing since February, Chief Lanier said officers from nine specialized units -- including vice squads, gang and gun offender units, and undercover officers -- have diverted their focus specifically to robberies.

"I wouldn't want [the department] to always maintain a balanced force across the city if there is a spike in one area of the city," said Hill East resident and Advisory Neighborhood Commission member Brian Flahaven, 35. "I would much rather them be a nimble force."

For others, questions still remain regarding how the department would handle the problem in the long term, and the reason for it.

"The instances of violence scare me," said Elizabeth, 47, who declined to give her last name because she had been a victim of both robbery and burglary in the neighborhood. "I still don't understand why some of the assaults are violent."

Capitol Hill resident Alan Mertz, 66, said he has seen police throw resources such as extra lighting and patrols at areas like the Potomac Avenue Metro station in the past when it became crime hot spot, but he said over time the resources are shifted elsewhere and the problems resurface.

"We do not have any police patrols there on a regular basis. It's not a continual presence," he said, noting a friend was robbed at gunpoint there last week.

When new residents are looking at homes in the neighborhood, crime is their No. 1 concern, said Mr. Mertz, a real estate agen.

"The question all young people ask when people move in is 'How is the crime?' I have to be honest," he said.

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