- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 20, 2012

An uptick in violent crime in the District of Columbia, fueled by an increase in robberies committed at gunpoint in the early part of the year, appears to be slowing, according to preliminary crime data.

March crime statistics indicate that overall violent crime, as well as robberies, are down this month compared with the same time last year after a series of police actions attempting to curb a spike in violence of 40 percent in the first six weeks of 2012. Of particular concern, the number of robberies involving a gun during that period doubled what it had been last year.

Metropolitan Police Department statistics from March 1 through Monday show violent crime down 11 percent and robberies down 16 percent. Citywide, robberies involving a gun are down this month 44 percent compared with last year and are unchanged or down everywhere except in Wards 7 and 8, areas east of the Anacostia River that historically have had higher levels of violent crime.

Police reported 294 violent crimes, including 44 robberies committed at gunpoint and 119 other robberies, so far in March.

“The MPD has been taking steps to take control of the robberies,” said D.C. council member Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat.

Police say they have begun a series of initiatives this year targeting the increase in robberies, which have drawn widespread public outcry that has resulted in community meetings and public announcements about crime incidents and arrests.

“We are seeing our efforts pay off,” police spokeswoman Gwendolyn Crump said, noting that the number of arrests of robbery suspects is up.

Officers as of Friday had made 315 arrests in connection with robberies this year, more than double the number of such arrests made over the same period in 2011, Ms. Crump said.

Police have reassigned 200 officers and employed undercover officers as decoys. Officials said recent raids on 13 establishments believed to be trafficking in stolen goods such as smartphones and other handheld consumer electronics may have also played into this month’s crime decrease.

“At the very least, it sends a very strong message that if you traffic stolen goods, they will find you and shut you down,” said Pedro Ribeiro, a spokesman for Mayor Vincent C. Gray. “The resources the chief has deployed have had a significant impact.”

As a result of the March 12 raids, 16 people face charges in relation to the sale of the stolen goods. Police recovered hundreds of stolen items and are working to return them to their owners. Officials have hinted that additional raids may be in the works, but they have declined to discuss their efforts further.

The Urban Institute, a D.C.-based think tank, has suggested that this year’s trend is a return to typical crime levels after an “anomalously low violent-crime period” at the beginning of 2011 rather than a crime surge.

The only violent crime category that is down year-to-date is homicides, with 16 reported in 2012 compared with 19 in 2011. Homicides continue to decline after last year, dropping to the lowest level in a half-century.

While the March numbers suggest a positive trend, violent crime — homicides, sexual assaults, robberies and assaults with dangerous weapons — remains up 24 percent for the year compared with the same time in 2011.

Overall, the District has recorded 1,403 violent crimes this year, including 875 robberies, 327 of which were committed at gunpoint, according to preliminary police data.

With violent crime numbers still up this year over last — particularly robberies with guns, which through Monday remain up a staggering 64 percent — others reflected that police in the District still have ground to cover.

“I don’t think they have a handle on it, but they’re getting a handle on it,” said council member Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat. “This is a huge problem.”

But part of that battle remains educating people who live in and visit the District to better protect their property, Mr. Graham said. Victims often are “not conscious of the opportunity they’re unwittingly giving people,” he noted.

“New people with the technology need to adjust to an urban environment, where people are stealing things,” Mr. Graham said.

Tom Howell Jr. contributed to this report.

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

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