Residents of D.C. neighborhoods in the past two years increasingly are being targeted by criminals from other parts of the city, Maryland and Virginia.
“More and more, we’re starting to see individuals who are committing crimes in areas other than where they live. And it affects all parts of the city,” police Chief Charles H. Ramsey said. “I’ve been looking at crime numbers here in D.C. for eight years, and this is something that for the last year and a half or so, we’ve definitely seen more of.”
In the past, officials with the Metropolitan Police Department said, criminals have generally restricted their activities to their own neighborhoods. But now, officers are seeing more cases come across their desks involving criminals looking outside their own neighborhoods for victims and targets.
“It’s something that’s picked up,” said Capt. C.V. Morris, commander of the police department’s violent crimes division. “It used to be if you had a crime it was a localized thing, it was somebody in the neighborhood or somebody just outside of the neighborhood.”
The spike in what some officials call “commuter criminals,” Chief Ramsey said, can be directly linked to an increase in juvenile crime.
“We are seeing more and more juveniles involved in crimes,” he said. “Where we did have the most significant increase was in the categories of arrests for juveniles in robberies and weapons violations. We had significant increases in both those categories, which really shows me that young people are committing more violent and aggressive crimes.”
Police arrested 209 juveniles for robbery in 2005, up from 153 in 2004 and 111 in 2003. Weapons violations also climbed, with 155 arrested in 2005 — up from 118 in 2004 and 110 in 2003.
“Most of these crimes that are being committed are being done by juveniles or by young people under 30, but still young,” said D.C. Council member Adrian M. Fenty, Ward 4 Democrat, who leads the council’s committee on human services and is running for mayor. “It does not surprise me at all that they are traveling to commit crime.”
A perfect example of a commuter criminal, police said, is Michael C. Hamlin, 23, who confessed to a Jan. 6 mugging that resulted in the death of veteran New York Times journalist David E. Rosenbaum.
Mr. Hamlin, a maintenance worker from Southeast, robbed the 63-year-old retiree near his Northwest home. Mr. Rosenbaum died two days later from blunt-force trauma to the head.
A potential reason for the increase, said Chief Ramsey, is the accessibility to juveniles of public transportation or stolen cars.
“We had groups of juveniles that were leaving their neighborhoods, traveling to other parts of the city to commit crimes on Metro and then going back,” he said. “In some cases, they use stolen cars and they travel to other parts of the city and then go back.”
In Adams Morgan, which attracts big weekend crowds to its clubs and bars, officials saw an increase in robberies and muggings last fall. Many of the suspects arrested in those cases, they said, had home addresses outside the neighborhoods where the crimes were committed.
“We do have this problem, but of course we have an entertainment area where we are most interested in having people,” said Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat. “We do have some who come to the area to be nuisances and others who come to the area to be criminals.”
Those rates have since dropped, thanks to an increased police presence after Chief Ramsey declared a citywide crime emergency in early December.
But more police are not necessarily the solution to commuter criminals, officials said.
“We need to find the people responsible, lock them up and get them off the streets,” Chief Ramsey said.
“We’ve increased police and we have had [crime] decreases in a lot of those areas. We have a finite number of resources, and we do deploy as best as we can. But most of the crimes committed don’t require long sentences and people do get out and commit additional crimes, unfortunately. There’s a variety of reasons people commit crimes, but bottom line is once they are apprehended, especially repeat offenders, they need to be sentenced for longer periods of time so they can stay off the streets and keep the public as safe as we can.”