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.