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City robberies on dramatic rise

Up 40% last year from ’11; increase likely to continue

– A rash of robberies at city apartment complexes this month is just the latest symptom of an ongoing trend, Fort Wayne’s police chief says.

With more and more people carrying smartphones, tablets or other expensive gadgets or money these days, others are choosing a crime of opportunity to make a quick score.

So they approach with a knife or gun, or maybe even just a threat, and make off with someone’s wallet, phone or whatever they have on them.

Thus, robberies are on the rise.

Dramatically.

“We had a 40 percent increase in robberies between 2011 and 2012,” Police Chief Rusty York said, citing numbers from his department’s website. “We know that robberies of individuals are up, and I think that pretty much accounts for the increase.”

There were 447 robberies reported in Fort Wayne last year, up from 310 just the year before, according to the department’s statistics.

And if the first two weeks of this year are any indication, though it is a small sample size, that trend might not be abating.

From Jan. 1 through Tuesday, Fort Wayne Police fielded 39 calls regarding robberies by gun, knife or other weapons or by force, according to the department.

Not all of those calls have been verified as actual robberies, but during the same time frame last year, there were only 18 such calls.

The year before that – 2011 – there were merely 11 during that same time.

“These seem to be crimes of opportunity,” York said. “People are carrying cellphones and iPads, and more people are opting to get involved in criminal activity.”

That trend is also happening in bigger cities.

New York City Police reported late last year that 40 percent of all robberies its officers investigate now involve cellphones, according to the Associated Press.

Cellphone thefts account for nearly a quarter of the robberies in Los Angeles, which were up 27 percent toward the end of last year, according to the Associated Press.

Crimes of opportunity are what seem to be fueling the spree of apartment robberies that have made headlines and led off newscasts recently.

Detectives believe these robberies are the work of a “circle of folks,” York said, much like a spate of bank robberies that closed out 2012 were being done by a group of different people.

Many of the apartment robberies share similarities:

Victims have been alone at night in parking lots, usually coming home or walking to the building from their car.

Sometimes two men will approach; sometimes there is just one.

Sometimes they are armed with a gun.

Each time, it seems the robbers are lying in wait for the perfect moment when the victims are alone, said police spokeswoman Officer Raquel Foster.

In several of the cases involving apartments, victims have given similar suspect descriptions as well as similar descriptions of a firearm being used.

But in other cases, it appears a different type of firearm is used, or there is a different getaway vehicle, according to Foster.

“We’re treating them as related,” she said. “It might be a group of individuals committing the crime, or others mimicking the message or manner.”

Whoever is committing these apartment robberies is also becoming more brazen and ratcheting up the violence.

Victims have been beaten, tied up and, in one case Tuesday afternoon, a woman was stabbed.

Foster stressed that apartment residents should be aware of their surroundings as they walk into their buildings and that they should report anything unusual.

“They should look for anything that stands out to them,” she said. “If something’s out of place, or suspicious, pay attention to it.”

If a resident is arriving at a parking lot in the evening hours and sees something that makes him or her uncomfortable, Foster recommended an extra pass through the lot in the car before parking.

And call police, she said.

“In one of the cases, someone said they might’ve seen a suspect looking through car windows right before a robbery,” Foster said. “That should’ve been the first indicator that that person doesn’t belong there.

“That should’ve been a call to us,” she continued.

jeffwiehe@jg.net

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