Robberies in Mount Pleasant -- how frequent, and where?
Mount Pleasant is the "inner city", not distant suburbia, and not wealthy west-of-the-Park urban, either. Not so many years ago,  this neighborhood was dominated by inexpensive rooming houses, and afflicted with drug dealing and petty crime. Today it's gone upscale, but in a west-to-east flow, so that environment of poverty and crime remains, not far to the east. Subsidized housing developments and shelters for the homeless remain sources of petty crime. Young men intent on making a quick "score" all too frequently come to Mount Pleasant, where cars and homes contain expensive goods, and people carry significant amounts of cash. Criminals, quite logically, prefer to do their stealing and robbing from people who have stuff that is worth taking. And Mount Pleasant, where there's now lots of wealth, is only a few blocks away. robbery bar chart

Robberies in Mount Pleasant, 2002 to present. The monthly count of robberies goes up and down rather dramatically, all depending on what gang of youths is "working" the neighborhood. A police arrest can drop the count sharply. Somebody getting out of jail can crank it right up again.
Street robberies show a dramatic geographic distribution, almost all of them occurring east of 18th Street, and most of them between 16th and 17th Streets. The dynamic is simple: little squads of youths come across 16th Street from the poverty neighborhoods in Columbia Heights and prowl the streets in search of "soft targets", that is, someone who looks like they won't or can't fight back, alone on a deserted street with no one to come to their aid. Rarely are the robbers alone, as they prefer to travel in packs of three to five. They are almost always young, frequently juveniles, commonly teenagers, sometimes in their twenties. (The median age at which a robber starts his career of robbery is twelve; yes, just twelve years old. The MPD reports arresting nine- and ten-year-olds for robbery.)

These little packs are on foot, and prefer not to be far from "safety" east of 16th Street, so almost all Mount Pleasant robberies occur on the east side. Once in a while they'll make their way to the "west end", but that's the exception.

Sometimes these youths are unarmed, using their numbers to intimidate their victims into submitting. Sometimes they carry toy guns that look all too much like the real thing. And sometimes they carry real guns. There is nothing so frightening as a dumb teenager, full of adrenalin and totally lacking in mature judgment, pointing a lethal weapon at you. Give me a cool, experienced thug, any time.

I believe that the killing of Gregory Shipe, on Irving Street between 17th and 18th, was a "robbery gone bad". Two youths were seen running east on Irving shortly after the shooting. I think the dumb kid was just waving the gun in Mr Shipe's face, and it went off by accident. Horrible.
robbery locations, 2006 

The map shows robbery locations (approximate) in Mount Pleasant for the first nine months of 2006.
So what does one do about robberies? "More police" is not the answer. They can't be everywhere, all the time, and the youths doing the robbing are smart enough to refrain from doing anything when there's a uniform, or a squad car, in sight. They wait until all is clear, then strike.

In the winter of 2003-2004, an army of police occupied Mount Pleasant, in a reaction to the homicides of October and November of 2003. The MPD "Weed and Seed" van parked on Mount Pleasant Street, and a squad car was parked 24/7 around Lamont Park. Did robberies decrease, due to this heavy and very visible police presence? They did not! On the contrary, in the midst of this police occupation, in January 2004, Mount Pleasant suffered more robberies than in any other single month in the 52 months that I've been collecting data. Throwing uniformed police at the robbery problem does not work.

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What does work? Looking at the robbery counts, you can see how dramatically the rate changes. Sometimes sharp decreases in robbery rates comes because the MPD succeeds in making an arrest. That wave of robberies in late 2002 ended when they captured one pair of robbers in Columbia Heights, and those two led them to a whole gang, robbers who worked out of Silver Spring, and roamed up and down 16th Street in search of victims. With the shutting down of that gang, the number of robberies in a month dropped from 13 to one.

I have long pressed for more effective detective work to track down and arrest robbers. This is easily the best way to prevent future robberies, because robbers do not do just one or two and quit, but continue their "career choice" until they are stopped.

Unfortunately, the District does not put sufficient resources into post-crime detective work, preferring the politically popular, but ineffectual, approach of hiring more police officers for patrol work. Our police district suffers over 1000 robberies a year, and a little squad of five detectives is burdened with trying to solve all of them. The District's rate of closing robberies by arrest is a dismal 14%, where the national average for cities of over 250,000 population is 23%. We can, and should, do better.
This page last updated October 7, 2006