- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 19, 2012

Violent crime so far this year in the District has spiked sharply — a 40 percent increase that includes twice as many robberies at gunpoint than at this time last year.

Across the city, all police districts are reporting increases in violent crime, and all but one have had double-digit percentage increases, according to internal Metropolitan Police Department documents. The documents contained preliminary crime data for the city as of Thursday.

The crime rate is increasing this year after a downward trend — the number of reported homicides last year dropped to the lowest level in a half-century.

Homicides were the only category of violent crime to decline in the first six weeks this year. As of Thursday, the city had recorded 10 homicides compared with 11 at a similar point last year.

Overall, though, incidents of violent crime — homicides, sexual assaults, robberies and assaults with deadly weapons — are rising at an alarming pace.

The biggest increase was in the 1st District, which includes Capitol Hill, where violent crime jumped by 69 percent, with 110 incidents reported compared with 65 at this point last year. The highest increase was in the 7th District, east of the Anacostia River, where 181 were reported, up 43 percent from the 127 incidents recorded at this point in 2011.

The 2nd District, which includes upper Northwest, reported the smallest increase in violent crime, at 4 percent. But of the 53 violent crimes reported there, 37 were robberies. A series of potentially related robberies in several of the affluent neighborhoods there has raised concern among residents, prompting a community meeting scheduled by D.C. Council member Mary M. Cheh for Thursday.

“People are beginning to not feel safe,” Ms. Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat, said last week after a news conference at 2nd District headquarters to discuss the increase in robberies.

Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier warned of a citywide spike in robberies at a Feb. 10 news conference. She said the increase was attributable to criminals targeting smartphones and similar electronics.

During the news conference, Chief Lanier presented statistics on robberies for 2011, which compared somewhat favorably to data from 2010. According to those statistics, robberies with guns were down 11 percent from 2010 to last year, while robberies without guns were up 12 percent over the same period.

Statistics obtained by The Washington Times show that the 578 robberies recorded this year represent an increase of 55 percent compared with figures from the opening weeks of 2011. In addition, the number of robberies in which a gun was used has more than doubled, with 252 such robberies this year compared with 124 last year. The 396 robberies citywide in January topped January robbery totals in any year from 2008 to 2011.

Despite the recent news conferences on robberies, the crime numbers come as something of a surprise. An online crime-mapping tool on the police website that residents can use to track crime statistics in real time has been offline since the year began. Police originally said the site would be up by the end of last week. Now they say it will return early this week.

In Vincent C. Gray’s State of the District address Feb. 7, the mayor minimized the spike.

“In the first few weeks of 2012, thefts were up over the same period last year — and in a few neighborhoods robberies were also up,” Mr. Gray said. “Crime, whether it’s petty theft or armed robbery, will not be tolerated in our city, period — no excuses.”

But the statistics show that robberies jumped in every police district — far from increases “in a few neighborhoods.” The hikes ranged from a low of 29 percent in the 3rd District, a large part of which includes the city’s downtown core, to a 100 percent jump in the 1st District.

Overall crime — violent crimes and property crimes such as burglary, theft and arson — has increased 25 percent from last year to this year.

The statistics also show that the increase in crime rates has been building steadily, making it more difficult to dismiss it as an aberration based on a small data sample.

Going back to October, overall crime is up 15 percent in the District, and violent crime is up 24 percent.

The increases trouble Kristopher Baumann, chairman of the Fraternal Order of Police, because of their dramatic rise and because police and government officials have underplayed them.

“It is indefensible that Mayor Gray has failed to inform the public about this crime wave,” Mr. Baumann said. “Mr. Gray was very quick to take credit for any perceived drops in crime, so now it’s time for him to take responsibility as crime is on the rise.”

In a statement issued Sunday, Gray spokeswoman Doxie McCoy said the mayor and Chief Lanier have raised public concern about the increase in robberies.

“The chief also has announced measures to address crime involving smartphones and other electronics that are driving the uptick,” Ms. McCoy said. “Mayor Gray supports and has confidence in the chief and officers as they focus in on these kinds of crimes.”

• Andrea Noble can be reached at anoble@washingtontimes.com.

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