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On the heels of a Districtwide tour promoting her anti-crime initiatives on Monday, Mayor Muriel Bowser this morning touted the work of a task force that has been focusing on combatting local robberies since December. Formed by the Metropolitan Police Department, the Metro Transit Police Department, the Office of the Attorney General, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the group has already helped coordinate responses to several robbery incidents, Police Chief Cathy Lanier said at a press conference held outside the Eastern Market Metro station.

The task force’s creation comes after the District saw a “modest uptick” in robberies between 2014 and 2015: five percent overall, according to Bowser, with certain neighborhoods seeing more than others. Some residents of Capitol Hill, for example, have reportedly altered their everyday routines due to increases in both armed and unarmed robberies; other locales including Columbia Heights, Brookland, Trinidad, and Petworth also experienced marked rises in such incidents. The task force is designed to allow local agencies to share intelligence “in real time,” Bowser explained, meaning that law enforcement may better identify robbery suspects and sprees to more faithfully prosecute repeat offenders.

“[There are] a very small number of repeat offenders who are involved in a very large number of crimes,” the police chief said, echoing a theme the District has depicted since last summer. “The issue with robberies is being able to get a good identification [of suspects] to start with,” she later explained.

The task force, which launched Dec. 11., handles both street crime and crimes committed on D.C.’s Metro system. Specialists from MPD have been embedded within MTPD to assist in recognizing robbery patterns, Bowser said. Although several youth have been involved in recent incidents on public transit, including a Dec. 21 rush-hour assault on the Red Line, MTPD Chief Ronald Pavlik said there is “no direct correlation” between recent Metro crimes and adolescent riders. (“There have always been young people who ride Metro,” Bowser pointed out.)

More than 300 adult defendants have robbery-related cases pending in D.C. Superior Court, said Richard Tischner, the chief of USAO’s Superior Court Division. USAO will devote “senior prosecutors” to the task force, he said, who will look at pretrial detention, federal charges, and other strategies to “go after” offenders.

“We will be in a situation coming back to you next year [where] there are fewer robbery victims,” Tischner stated.

In spite of these assurances, Denise Rucker Krepp, an ANC commissioner who lives in Hill East and has pushed for greater transparency from local prosecutors—in part through a recent “Freedom of Information Act bake sale“—said she was still unsatisfied with the lack of specific, publicly available data on violent-crime convictions from the Department of Justice. In her area, Krepp said, the jump in robberies has been “huge”; residents are concerned.

“I’ll probably be doing another FOIA bake sale” to raise sufficient money for a public-records request, Krepp said.

During her remarks, the mayor made a plug for greater prevention of robberies through better studies of police service areas with the most violent crime using grant funds and policy fixes like a just-approved security-camera program.

Photo by Andrew Giambrone