- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 15, 2007

More than 100 robberies downtown and around Capitol Hill this year were the work of packs of teenagers, who have been hijacking vans, driving them to wealthy neighborhoods and attacking pedestrians, police said.

“It seems like it’s in full throttle right now,” said Cmdr. Diane Groomes, who heads the Metropolitan Police Department’s 1st District.

Police said the teenagers, who are typically between 14 and 17, come from other parts of the city but target the 1st District because of its wealthy neighborhoods and tourist destinations.

“I think 1D has more victims, because that’s why we’ve closed out so many,” Cmdr. Groomes said. “We interviewed one kid, and he said they hit the Hill so they can get money.”

Police have identified at least four groups committing robberies in the 1st District, which includes Capitol Hill and much of downtown. The 6th District has also had a problem with similar attacks, and officials there have identified seven groups they think are responsible.

Cmdr. Groomes said that after stealing a car, sometimes the teenagers will run errands, visit family or even go to court. But most of the time, they are out looking to ambush an easy target walking along D.C. streets.

“They’re not just doing it for thrills anymore,” she said. “They’re doing it as a part-time job almost, to get money.”

Her officers recently identified a group after catching some teenagers who had been robbing parking lot attendants near K Street Northwest.

“They’d drive in and say, ‘How much to park,’ and then they would jump out,” she said.

Her unit has arrested two groups, closing out more than a dozen robberies, but there are plenty more out there, she said.

“Pack robberies” have been a problem in areas outside the District as well. Police in Montgomery County have seen the number of robberies committed by groups of four or more people increase from 70 in 2003 to 133 last year. Many of the robberies have been in the Silver Spring and Wheaton areas.

Lucille Baur, a Montgomery County police spokeswoman, said police can’t be sure why the numbers are going up, but a large part of it might be because of a culture that “glamorizes the young thug.”

Cmdr. Groomes said deterring the groups has been difficult because many of them get light punishments because of their age.

“We’d like to see that these youths get locked up and get whatever services they need,” she said.

Cases can also be difficult to solve because the robberies are often committed at night, the assailants usually wear masks and the incidents last only a minute or two.

Cmdr. Groomes advised residents to take steps to avoid becoming a target.

“If you do get robbed, it’s really important to report it right away,” she said.

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