Neighbors React to Armed Robbery
Recent armed robbery on South Pitt Street prompts neighborhood concern.
By Michael Lee Pope
Thursday, February 26, 2009
For one Old Town couple, the walk home from having dinner at O’Connell’s Restaurant one recent Saturday evening became a brush with death that has changed their lives. Shortly after entering the 200 block of South Pitt Street, the couple noticed three young black males emerge from behind a brick wall on the west wide of the street. One of the men grabbed the woman around the waist and shoved the barrel of a revolver to the side of her neck. The other two men each pointed a pistol at the man.
"Kill the *****," one of the attackers said, according to a report the woman made to the Alexandria Police Department.
The man threw his wallet on the ground, hoping to give the assailants what they wanted. The woman followed her husband’s lead, throwing her purse on the ground. The attackers then grabbed the loot and ran into the dark streets of Old Town, leaving the distraught husband and wife with disturbing memories that they now say they relive each time they walk to and from King Street. No arrests have been made in the case, although police officials say they have identified suspects from "across the river."
"I am concerned with what I feel is becoming a trend of people coming from other jurisdictions to commit crime in the city," said Police Chief David Baker. "Old Town is particularly susceptible to this because it’s relatively affluent and it’s really easy to get in and get out very quickly."
IN THE LAST TWO weeks, according to police data, Old Town has experienced an array of criminal activity: 22 incidents of theft, 11 incidents of theft from vehicle, 11 assaults, nine drug offenses, six arrests for people who were drunk in public, four arrests for people who were driving under the influence, three stolen vehicles, two robberies, two cases of disorderly conduct, two people arrested for walking around Old Town an open container of alcohol, one case breaking and entering case and one sexual assault.
But it was the Feb. 7 armed robbery that sparked the concerns of many people who live in Old Town. News of the incident traveled fast, over elliptical machines at the gym and in blast e-mail messages to friends and neighbors. When a neighbor of the victim began organizing a meeting with the Police Department, the event quickly swelled from a living room gathering to a standing-room-only crowd packed into the Old Presbyterian Meeting House’s fellowship hall.
"Suddenly something that once seemed safe no longer seems safe," said Susan Swain, who organized the community meeting between Old Town residents and the Police Department. "Logic tells us that with the economy in trouble we could see an increase in crime this year."
Mindful of the potential for increased crime, city budget officials spared public-safety agencies from the reductions that were made in other areas. Although City Manager Jim Hartmann suggested cutting more than 120 jobs earlier this month, none of those jobs are in the Police Department. City Council members are actually considering raising the budget for the police, one of the few city departments that could end up with more money next year. Officers who work in the domestic violence unit, special response unit and the court liaison unit will be moved to patrol.
"In difficult economic climate, crime tends to rise," said Councilman Justin Wilson. "That’s why police and fire are the only two major departments that will have increased funding this year."
GATHERING AT THE Old Presbyterian Meeting House for the community meeting this week, Capt. Tammy Hooper assured Old Town residents that their neighborhood was not experiencing a crime spree. She presented a number of year-to-date statistics that showed crime is down compared to this time last year, although she said a number of items have been stolen from purses left in shopping carts at the Whole Foods Market. She assured neighborhood residents that the Police Department has increased patrols in Old Town, and she said one of the best things residents could do to make their neighborhood more safe was to increase lighting.
"You can help that situation by turning your porch light on," said Hooper, who oversees policing in Old Town.
"Amen," said a woman in the front row.