Capitol Hill Crime Down, but Muggings Don’t Slow

Posted June 15, 2009 at 6:44pm

Capitol Hill’s crime rate has improved consistently over the past few years, inching downward with each newly renovated row house and revitalized neighborhood.

But there’s one crime residents can’t seem to shake: muggings.

In the 1st district — which includes Capitol Hill and sections of downtown — the number of “robberies excluding guns— increased by 8 percent in the first six and a half months of 2009 compared with the same period in 2008.

That number is worse in some Capitol Hill neighborhoods. The Police Service Area that encompasses Eastern Market, for example, has seen an increase of 23 percent. That number skyrockets to 540 percent (from five muggings to 32) if comparing the past 30 days to the same period last year.

But residents don’t seem overly worried. David Garrison, chairman of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6B in southeast Capitol Hill, said it’s “hard to know if a pattern has taken place— from the Metropolitan Police Department’s preliminary statistics.

“There’s been no particular conversations about this,— he said. “No one has said Gee, I think this is a problem.’—

1st District Inspector Michael Reese said Monday that crime in the district is down overall. Indeed, total violent crime is down by 9 percent. And robberies on the whole — those with and without guns — are up only 1.5 percent.

Reese couldn’t give an explanation for the robbery increases, but he conceded that such crimes usually rise when schools let out for summer. Officials target schools, he said, giving public service announcements and warning students about the consequences of crime.

“I think it’s an issue, but I think that the city — with the summer jobs program, various community centers — and I think various groups provide outreach,— he said.

Still, crime on the Hill can be unpredictable. With affluent neighborhoods alongside troubled ones, crime can often cross the invisible border into a “safe— neighborhood.

Two years ago, for example, a man stabbed two people who were walking to work near Eastern Market in the early morning. But overall, the Eastern Market neighborhood — PSA 106 — ranks near the bottom in crime activity throughout the 1st district.

Over the weekend, for example, that area didn’t see any crimes, according to the daily crime report posted by the department on its 1st district listserv. But PSA 101, which includes Chinatown and surrounding areas, had 18 crimes, mostly involving theft.

In fact, property crime is far more common on Capitol Hill than violent crime, with more than 2,000 such crimes occurring in the 1st district so far this year. Violent crime has so far totaled 491 incidents.

Reese said officers study each crime for patterns, and officers patrol communities on foot, bike and Segway to encourage community policing.

“We have some of the best people working here,— Reese said. “The officers do a good job of responding to the scene and also canvassing. That’s been critical.—

But he conceded that tight-knit communities sometimes make finding suspects difficult. On Saturday, a Roll Call reporter found that out when her mugger ran into an apartment building in southeast Capitol Hill. A detective on the scene speculated that some of the residents may have known the offender — or were even relatives — but nobody came forward with information.