- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 27, 2001

Many residents in the District's Brookland neighborhood are watching their backs, and some are even arming themselves, after a surge in armed robberies during the first two months of this year.

"I truly think this is the first time since I've been in D.C. that I am truly frightened to go out into the community," said Mary Baird-Currie, an advisory neighborhood commissioner in Brookland. "We have seen bad, but this is truly as bad as it gets."

Police statistics compiled by residents for the two Police Service Areas (PSAs) near the Catholic University/Brookland Metro subway stop show 25 armed robberies in January and February, up from 12 during the same period last year.

But Cmdr. Jennifer Greene, who is in charge of the 5th Police District, which includes Brookland, said more recent statistics show that robberies are slowing as a result of enforcement initiatives she has begun.

Cmdr. Greene noted that the two Brookland PSAs recorded five robberies from March 1-20, down from six during the same 20-day period last year.

"It's obviously working," said Cmdr. Greene, who took charge of the 5th District in September. "We know there was a robbery problem. We targeted it, and it's showing a reduction."

Statistics on the Metropolitan Police Department's Web site (www.mpdc.org) show that armed robberies increased citywide from 325 in January last year to 417 in January this year, a 28 percent increase.

Robberies in the 5th District, meanwhile, rose 45 percent from 35 in January last year to 51 in January this year, the statistics show.

Cmdr. Greene said the latest data, which have not yet been posted on the Web site, show a 33 percent increase in armed robberies in Brookland from January through March 23.

She credited the drop to the formation of a warrant squad that has increased the number of suspects it takes into custody, targeting persons charged with misdemeanor crimes.

"Those are the offenders out there who already have committed a crime," the police official said. "We need to get them off the street because they have the potential to commit other crimes."

In addition, officers have stepped up traffic enforcement, keeping a lookout for temporary tags, broken windows and other signs of stolen autos, she said.

D.C. police have made recent arrests that investigators believe will close dozens of robberies across the city, including the 5th District, Cmdr. Greene added.

The Washington Times first reported last June that Brookland was under a wave of armed robberies, and that residents found the police response poor. City police soon announced new crime-fighting plans, and D.C. Council members called for better enforcement.

For Brookland resident Ronnie Haig, the crime has gotten so bad that he and other residents now carry weapons for self-defense. One neighbor showed him a can of pepper-spray on a recent evening walk, he said.

"You almost want to walk around with … not with a gun, but something to defend yourself," said Mr. Haig, who said he does not carry a firearm but did not want his self-defense items detailed in this report.

"It's almost to the point where you want to take action yourself," he said.

"If somebody comes after me and I put them down and an officer wants to arrest me for getting someone who had a gun, I'll go to jail. That's fine," he added.

Mr. Haig, 46, said he was mugged at gunpoint last summer. He fought off two men before a third robber pulled a gun.

"It's just ridiculous. It's a shame. I used to walk around in the evenings and think nothing of it. It's just a shame when you're afraid to walk up the street in the evening," he said.

Cmdr. Greene said police need to communicate more with Brookland residents who are scared and upset.

"Maybe we need to do a better job in publicizing what we're doing to target these crimes, and actually [show] what the difference has been," she said. "Right now, from this day forward, they will have that information so they can put their community fears at rest. But we are doing something about it."

Brookland residents last year criticized police but now acknowledge that the authorities have improved their response, especially the new police captain overseeing the area, James Crane.

"Captain Crane and his team are the most polite, cordial and communicating team we've dealt with, but we are still living under a crime wave," Ms. Baird-Currie said.

"We have better policing, and yet the robberies have increased," said Darcy Flynn, another advisory neighborhood commissioner. "It's left a lot of people scratching their heads.

"When a robber is arrested, a younger brother, a younger cousin, a younger friend is willing to pick up the gun and continue, which I never imagined would be the case," Mr. Flynn said.

One 5th District police official agreed with Mr. Darcy's theory.

"There's a group of guys, you get them, and then there's another group, and you get them, and then another comes and it never stops," the official said on the condition of anonymity.

The official also said some crime victims don't want to testify in court and refuse to cooperate with investigations.

Executive Assistant Chief Terrance W. Gainer, the police department's No. 2 official, didn't comment specifically on Brookland's problems but said "robbery has been whacking us all over the city."

He said the increasing robberies may be due, in part, to the success of the Narcotics Strike Force, a unit of plainclothes officers that targets drug-infested areas.

The squad has worked in the 5th District for the last several months and made a "significant dent" in the open-air drug markets, he said. The resulting slack drug trade could force drug pushers to commit robbery.

Several robbery patterns have emerged in Brookland, residents said.

The robbers over several days size up residents as they leave the Metro stop, then follow them for a few blocks and commit the robbery. They also target the elderly.

A robber tore Daphne Giampietro's purse from her and dragged the 76-year-old Brookland resident to the ground on New Year's Day at about 4:30 p.m.

"I'm going to have to take your Christmas gifts," the robber said to Mrs. Giampietro and her 88-year-old husband as they were standing behind the car in their driveway, according to her son, the Rev. Anthony Giampietro.

Mrs. Giampietro tried to flee, and "doesn't remember exactly what happened at that point. She wound up in front of the car on the ground," said Father Giampietro, a Catholic priest at Fordham University in New York City who was home last week to care for his mother after a surgical procedure.

"I didn't know until this moment that he dragged her to the ground. The things parents keep from children," he added. "I'm ready to start packing some heat myself."

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