MPSA PERSPECTIVE ON ROBBERIES IN THE SERVICE AREA
In light of the recent high-profile robberies we took a closer look at robbery trends in and around the MPSA service area. Street robberies comprise our most dangerous public safety challenge, as a robbery is but a step short of a homicide.
In the first few years of MPSA operations, the robbery suspects tended to be on foot, with incidents occurring largely in one of two scenarios. The most common was that the perps struck on Ponce, or in the lower third of the service area, and then fled on foot into the Bedford-Pine area. The perp was typically someone that spent time in the area – youths from Bedford-Pine and street people. Proactive efforts led in large part by the MPSA have pretty much eliminated this trend by addressing street people activity in the Ponce corridor, driven by the broken-window principle that a reduction in blatancy and public disorder will lead to a reduction in overall crime for the area. In the other scenarios, thugs would pace up and down in the Oak Hill section of Piedmont Park casing potential victims as they walked home along 10th Street. Routine enforcement of the park curfew and improved lighting have eliminated this segment of the robbery caseload.
During the first few years of MPSA operations we generally saw around 5-7 robbery counts per month, with occasional spikes to around 10, and never a zero or one-count month. As for modus operandi many of the incidents involved knife or strongarm (where the perp wrests the goods from the victim without using or displaying a weapon) rather than a gun. We no longer have detailed stats from the early years of MPSA, but gun/non-gun ratio was probably somewhere around half-and-half. This contrasts sharply with current trends, where guns are used most of the time. The park types and the Ponce types described above generally used knives or strongarm tactics.
Where we are now
In looking at trends since January 2012, we are finding that the geographic concentration of incident reports has shifted away from Ponce to the upper reaches of the service area. Nowadays street robberies tend to occur in the upper half of the service area (above 5th Street), with a concentration fanning out from the intersection of 10th & Piedmont area. The other key trend is that Midtown robberies nowadays normally involved suspects using vehicles as a crucial part of their modus operandi. They rove around town looking for victims. The suspects do not normally come from around here. Robbery incidents in the last couple of years usually involved the use of a gun, with knifepoint and strongarm robberies being much more of an exception. We do not routinely hear about knifepoint robberies any more.
Robbery counts inside the MPSA service area are typically around 2-4 incidents per month, with occasional zero or one-count months. In the last two years there has been only one month with a double-digit count of 10 (October 2011), whereas before we launched the MPSA patrol double-digit counts were almost routine.
As we worked to clear all that muck out of the service area, we exposed another segment of the robbery caseload: those perpetrated by criminals roving around town in vehicles., as reflected by:
- Credit cards among the loot are often used at convenience stores in relatively far away places like Southwest Atlanta and East Point shortly after the incident. Cell phone with some form of tracking app usually lead police to places well away from Midtown.
- Criminals found later, in other parts of town, with goods taken during robberies in Midtown. This usually happens in conjunction with other incidents, when police make an arrest for another criminal incident and peg them to a previous robbery.
In nearly all of the robberies for the last few years, the suspects quickly flee the area in a vehicle and often strike in multiple neighborhoods before police catch up to them. Sometimes they drive around and jump out of the car to rob a victim, and in other cases they park and walk around looking for victims, and then flee the area in a vehicle once they strike. In reading a good sampling of robbery report narratives from 2012, we find these circumstances to be most striking:
- In many reports the victim was walking home or back to their car after having patronized one of the businesses at 10th & Piedmont, or after passing through that intersection as they walked home from Midtown MARTA station. Somewhere along the way the perpetrators began casing the victim and struck at best feasibility.
- In several of the reports the victim is struck upon arriving home and parking on or near the street. As the victim parks their car and gathers things to take inside, the dome light disorients them and enables the perpetrators to move in with little or no notice. As the victim exits the vehicle the perpetrators strike.
- The majority of the incidents occurred in late evening, especially 9pm to midnight, and not in the wee hours of the morning (though that is the next most common timeframe).
- The majority of the incidents since January 2012 occurred in areas closer to 10th Street than those closer to Ponce. This is likely because pedestrian traffic is more abundant, and the streets are calmer than a busy street like Ponce.
We certainly do not think that roving bandits are a new trend because we have always had robberies perpetrated in this way. It’s just that moving Midtown toward a safer and more orderly neighborhood involves the task of peeling off one layer of criminal and nuisance activity after another, only to make another layer more visible.
Where we go from here
Now that we have shaved robbery trends down to this layer of roving criminals, it becomes our task to identify and isolate patterns of crime incidents including street robberies, and from there, contribute to the development of more effective strategies for targeting them. MPSA will certainly continue working largely from the broken-windows mindset in order to maintain the progress we have made in the last ten years, but roving bandits cannot be addressed effectively working strictly from this school of thought. With continued support from the neighborhood by way of membership we can sustain our progress in recent years so that things do not revert to previous conditions.
This is where our court watch program comes into the picture. Even the most effective police presence can only do so much to protect the community. Real-world policing is not like movies and TV dramas, where the credits start rolling up the screen once they finally catch the crook and the paddy wagon drives off. Once the police put the criminal in jail, it is then up to the courts to finish the job. It is the objective of our court watch efforts to make all parties in the criminal justice system – the prosecutors and judges – aware of the adverse impact wrought upon the community and urge them not to merely flush cases through the system as quickly as possible. Though our court watch efforts we also seek to show how people in the community continue to get hurt and victimized because of these deficiencies.
In looking at crime patterns across the board in the MPSA service area. we are seeing serious deficiencies in the Fulton County court system. Whether high level phenomena like robberies and burglaries, medium-level problems like the trans gang with all their street prostitution, drugs and other criminal activity, or low-level things like vagrant activity on Ponce, we are finding that far too many criminals are slipping through the cracks. In any of these categories we do not have any first-time offenders to speak of. In some of the recent robbery incidents the suspects should have been dealt with long ago, and not recycled through drug court and first-offender-type programs. Too many of those perpetrating robberies in Midtown and elsewhere in Atlanta have long and complex criminal histories, But no criminal histories in the state prison system. And these deficiencies continue to manifest themselves in the community through things like the robberies sprees we hear about all to often…
At the website version of this post we have posted summaries of police report narratives from the six incidents in the first few weeks of 2013 (this does not include the February 14th incident, so more will be added to the official stats!). While one was a business, the rest were pedestrian robberies reflecting much of the foregoing. From there we have also linked another document with the 2012 itemization and selected police report narratives.
We close this with a personal safety tip: disable the dome light in your car so that it does not automatically turn on whenever you open the door. Turn it on manually only as absolutely needed, but otherwise fully off. Keep a mini-flashlight in the console to find things at night. Especially if you normally park on the street, take a second to look around before getting out of the car to assess your surroundings.