22 Dec 2009

Fighting Back – The Community Organizes Against Carjackers

Photo originally uploaded by cailtinator to Flickr

Despite the still treacherous streets and sidewalks, roughly 75 people showed up last night at Options Public Charter School to hear more about the city’s response to the recent spate of carjackings on Capitol Hill, with a focus on those in PSA 103.  Councilmember Wells, ANC Commissioner 6A05 Mary Beatty, Chief Lanier, and other police officials addressed the concerns of residents and vowed immediate action to solve this problem. All officials in attendance were quite serious in stopping this behavior and restoring a measure of calm to Capitol Hill streets. Said Chief Lanier, “If we have a meeting like this, something broke down here.”

Some interesting points came to light. There has been a spike in carjackings concentrated on, but not confined to, the northeast section of Capitol Hill. Sixteen cases have been reported(pdf) this year, with 8 successfully closed. These crimes have been conducted by both juveniles and adults, although generally young adults. Although in one instance the motivation may have been to sell the car, generally “there is no reason for these crimes” according to Lt. William Farr of theMPD’s Carjacking Unit. They are conducted by thrill seekers, who may or may not use them to pull off a few more armed robberies before abandoning the car. Lt Farr and Chief Lanier both indicated that there is no pattern on the types of cars being targeted, from high-end models to the recent carjacking of a 1998 Honda.

Several residents questioned why we’re seeing the localized spike in our neighborhood. Councilmember Wells felt that we’re just the first neighborhood they hit as they come in from across the Anacostia River. Chief Lanier did indicate that there is a possibility that the suspects are coming from Kennilworth/Clay Terrace area, and when asked, said the reason for the attacks in northeast Capitol Road was simple: “Benning Road.” The quick and easy escape routes make the area desirable to carjackers.

MPD has several tangible actions they have proposed. For now, they plan to add a patrol unit to PSA 103 and step up bike/foot patrols. Recently, Commander Kamperin of MPD’s First District, which encompasses all of Capitol Hill, subdivided the Police Service Areas (PSA) into individual beats, assigned to specific officers. What does this mean to you? Quite simply, you should be able to develop a relationship with the beat officer in your corner of the Hill. Commander Kamperin indicated this should already be happening and he encouraged residents to introduce themselves to officers as they come across them. Contact information, location of beats, and other data will be posted on the MPD-1D listserve shortly.

Additionally, the Carjacking Unit will be using plainclothes officers to attempt to catch some of these crimes in progress. While many of us just want these crimes to stop near our homes, Chief Lanier wants to make sure the suspects are caught and stopped for good. “Carjackings will move to another area, I want to catch them before they do,” she said. Commissioner Beatty reiterated stopping the carjackings is in all of our interests. While, for obvious reasons, Lt Farr didn’t go into specific details of the tactics planned, one component that has yielded success was clamping down on the carjackers escape routes.

As to what we can do, several suggestions were brought forward by police officials. This is an amalgamation of several I heard, many of which were mentioned on the flyers handed out(pdf):

  • Be aware of your surroundings. Yeah, yeah, we’ve heard this before, but it’s important. Who among us hasn’t been on their cell phone or listening to music as we walk the city.
  • Know about your car. Know the make, model, color, and tag number. Once a carjacking occurs, the quicker this information can be disseminated, the higher the chance the carjackers can be caught.
  • Make eye contact and say hi to people. It may go against the unwritten ethos of urban disconnection, but Lt. Farr of the MPD Carjacking Task Force noted that potential criminals are less likely to target you if they know you are paying attention.
  • Utilize the MPD-1D Listserve. When a show of hands reveled that about 2/3rds of the crowd were using the listserve, Chief Lanier urged all of us to use it. Much of the specific information that residents requested are to be posted on the listserve soon, and it gets monitored by the Chief as well as our local police officials.
  • Report suspicious activity. This one is kind of like “eat your vegetables”, but Chief Lanier did lay out some guidelines for the best medium to contact the police, especially for those of us who are still figuring out the 311/911 shift of a few years ago. If the activity is ongoing (i.e. something you want an officer to respond to), call it in to 911. It doesn’t have to be an emergency, just something you think is worth investigating. If you wish to inform the police of activity that is suspicious, but not necessarily currently happening, Chief Lanier recommended texting the info to 50411. She, and all of her District Commanders, read all of those texts.

One intriguing issue was also brought to light by Chief Lanier. When asked how many of the perpetrators caught were repeat offenders, she laughed and replied “all of them.” Chief Lanier and the police seemed, at times, even more frustrated with the revolving door that allows criminals to conduct these acts over and over, including in one case apprehending a suspect with 33 arrests for violent crimes. The Chief referenced a recent case where a suspect was apprehended who was free on bail from a carjacking nine days earlier. While in no way attempting to dodge responsibility, Chief Lanier encouraged people to engage with the US Attorney’s Office and the judicial system to help put a face on these crimes.

On the legislative side, Councilmember Wells spoke about some proposals percolating in the council. Most intriguing is a bill to track the origin of the criminals involved, not just the location of the crimes. This should allow the public a better idea of where the crime comes from, with data to support it, instead of relying on guess work. If our problems are caused by criminals in our neighborhoods we need to work to address that, if from out of the area we deserve to know that as well. We’ll have more information on that in the new year. Additionally, Councilmember Wells plans to have a follow up meeting on the carjacking issue in 30 to 45 days to see what progress has been made and what remains to be done. We’ll be updating you on that as well.

For now, we should expect to see an increased patrol presence and targeted effort to catch the criminals involved. Residents of PSA 103 (and the Hill at large), let us know if you’re seeing this or not. After you’ve contacted your PSA Lieutenant, of course.

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10 responses to “Fighting Back – The Community Organizes Against Carjackers”

  1. sebastian says:

    Keep in mind that successfully closed for the police may not true for the victim. The arrested one of the three guys who hijacked my neighbor’s auto. He decided to sell the recovered vehicle because he is afraid that the guys will watch it, and come after him. He has two little kids.

  2. Mr. Styne says:

    The Police are doing a excellent job. Catching half of the perpetrators is twice the national average for robbery and almost 3x’s the arrest rate for carjacking. Go to fbi.gov if you want to verify.

    The police have their hands tied in DC with an extremely liberal court and U.S. Attorney’s Office and extremely over crowded jails.

    Juveniles are the worse as it pertains to release back to the community; they pretty much have to kill or seriously injure someone before they are held.

    The police also have a very restrictive chase policy that unless deadly force is used on the victim, a chase is not allowed.

    The police in this case were either very good or very lucky catching as many as they did. Once arrested, the rest is up to the courts and attorneys, which by in large don’t have the same accountability to the citizens that the police and other agencies within the criminal justice system do.

    Adult arrestee’s information is public, juveniles not so. Ask the police what the suspects names are and go here to find the judge and attorney:


    Follow the case and write, email or call the judge and prosecuting attorney and tell them how you feel. Hold them accountable as well as the police.

    Chief Lanier and her officers should be applauded. They have reduced the murder rate in the city to pre 1965 levels.

  3. Tim Krepp says:

    Quite so, and I hope I didn’t imply otherwise.

  4. jd says:

    “Make eye contact and say hi to people. It may go against the unwritten ethos of urban disconnection”

    I’ve always been amazed that people who live in the same neighborhood wouldn’t acknowledge each other on the street. This isn’t Manhattan, and it’s not even downtown DC. Say ‘hello’ to your neighbors!

  5. Liz says:

    I am from New York City and was taught from birth never to look anyone in the eye on the street and NEVER speak to strangers. This was actually very sound advice in the 70’s in NYC esp. for a single female walking alone. It has been very strange for me here in DC to have people speak to me on the street. I find it very weird and awkward, but am learning to be less guarded… it’s a tough habit to break. I am not convinced it is always a good idea actually. One exchange sometimes leads to more conversation which isn’t always welcome. But I digress!

  6. sebastian says:

    “The Police are doing a excellent job. Catching half of the perpetrators …”
    “The police in this case were either very good or very lucky catching as many as they did.”

    The police did not say that they arrested half of the perpetrators. At the meeting, they said that they considered the cased closed if they know who did it. It’s extremely difficult for victims to identify most these guys because they are wearing masks. I know that in two of the car jackings ,(done by the same robbers) one of the perps was held on other charges, but the others are walking the street, however the cases “are closed”. Don’t want to hate on the police, but get real, and listen more closely.

  7. RD says:

    Good Article following an informative meeting. Some misc thoughts:
    1) Everyone should take digital pictures of their car, front, back and both sides making it easier to transmit to MPD.
    2) Making Eye Contact with a brief Hello, Hi or hand wave, IMHO, it’s the quickest way to avert potential crime, we are all human and should be treated as such. It’s like birds chirping at each other. Also if a criminal act happens, it makes identification easier, not in all cases, but most.
    3) MPD – Are Decoy cars in use? Arlington, VA PD does as reported in WaPo.

  8. Elizabeth Festa says:

    I want to add the following from Commander Kamperin via the MPD-1D listserv:

    At a community meeting last night there was some discussion regarding how citizens can discuss the impact of crime with prosecutors and judges. The Court Watch program offers this opportunity. The next Court Watch panel is set for Monday, Jan 25th from 6:30-8pm at St Stephens located at 16th and Newton St NW .
    Coordinator: Ms.Cecilia Jones email: cecilia.a.jones@ gmail.com
    Additionally, you may contact our Community Prosecutor US Attorney Douglas Klein at douglas.klein@ usdoj.gov for information on preparation of Community Impact Statements.

  9. Tim Krepp says:


    I heard the police describe “closed” somewhat differently, so I asked them for further clarification. MPD considers a case closed when they “are able to physical arrest someone or find out they are incarcerated and we determine that they committed the crime”

  10. Tim Krepp says:


    Thanks for the info. Chief Lanier was very positive about the Court Watch program. It operates in several other police districts, but not yet in 1D.

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