Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Wave of robberies take place near campus

Nine robberies have occurred in the AU neighborhood since Jan. 16

Wave of robberies take place near campus

Two robberies occurred in the area surrounding campus on Friday night and early Saturday morning. These robberies mark the eighth and ninth crimes of the sort since mid-January, amid a recent rise in crime in the neighborhoods surrounding AU.

The first robbery this weekend occurred at about 11:00 p.m. on Feb. 24 near the 4900 Block of Brandywine St. NW, approximately one mile from AU’s campus in the Spring Valley neighborhood. The second occurred at about midnight on Feb. 25 near the 3500 block of Connecticut Ave. NW, approximately 1.9 miles from campus in the Cleveland Park neighborhood. Students were informed of the crimes in a safety advisory issued by University police early Saturday morning.

AU is in the Metropolitan Police Department’s 2nd District, which has seen an increase in robberies recently, Second District Commander Melvin Gresham said.

“You can sometimes go several months without a robbery within an area, but then other times you have an increase of several within a week,” Gresham said. “They’re usually committed by one individual group or one person.”

In response to this rise in crime, AU police issued a safety advisory on Feb. 23 about the string of robberies in the AU area, including information about five robberies that occurred between Jan. 24 and Feb. 22. There were no separate timely AU alerts sent for these crimes. The advisory also included information for two robberies that occurred on Jan. 16, for which students did receive an alert.

Students were notified via an AU alert of two armed robberies on Jan. 16, in which at least one victim was an AU student. The first robbery occurred in the 4700 block of Tilden St. NW, and a second connected robbery occurred that night in the 5300 block of Sherier Place NW, according to a release from D.C. police.

The two most recent robberies on Feb. 24 and 25 are connected to a robbery that occurred around 10:30 p.m. on Feb. 24 in Montgomery County, Maryland, Gresham said. D.C. police are deploying air and canine resources to locate and arrest the suspects, according to a message posted on the second district’s listserv.

Six of the total robberies were armed, according to the advisories and a release from D.C. police. None of the robberies occurred on AU property.

Lucca Vaselli, a senior in the School of Communication, was robbed at gunpoint on Feb. 22 around 11:30 p.m. in front of the driveway of the Avalon apartment building at 4100 Massachusetts Ave., NW on his return home from campus.

“Three men surrounded me and put a gun to me and said, ‘Give us everything you have.’ They patted me down [and] kept asking for passport, wallet and phone,” Vaselli said.

Vaselli called MPD, who responded to the incident. He did not directly notify AU Public Safety of the crime.

A few hours earlier, a robbery occurred at approximately 5:30 p.m. at the intersection of 49th Street and Glenbrook Road, NW in the Spring Valley neighborhood near AU.

Vaselli expressed concern about the lack of AU alerts following the robberies.

“I figured since it was a block away from campus, an alert would be sent out,” Vaselli said. “I would have appreciated a [Public Safety] alert for my case and the other robbery which happened a few hours before.”

AU’s police department is only required to send a timely alert to the campus community if there is an imminent or persistent threat on property owned or leased by the University, as mandated by the federal Clery Act.

When the department chooses to send an alert for an incident that has occurred off campus, it is because it feels that there is an incident students need to be made “situationally aware of,” Director of Public Relations Kelly Alexander said. Executive Director of University Police and Emergency Management Phillip Morse leads that decision making.

Alexander said that there is not “a lack of judgement” being used in deciding when to send an alert. Alerts are meant to be helpful to students and are an attempt to keep them safe, she said.

AU police chose to issue the Feb. 23 safety advisory because the department felt that there had been several crimes that occurred near where students live and work off campus, and so they should be made aware of the situation and given advice on how to stay safe, Alexander said.

Moving forward, a University response made in consultation with Morse informed students that “in addition to notifying the community and increasing officer visibility, AUPD monitors MPD’s radio frequency for 24-hour situational awareness,” Alexander said.

University police also encourage students to use the free campus escort service if they are in need of greater protection, and to utilize AU’s Blue Light phones and the University’s RAVE app in the event of an emergency.

Gresham recommended that students report any suspicious activity to D.C. police by calling 911 immediately.

“We would highly recommend that students walk in groups if possible and try to walk in well-lit areas,” Gresham said. “Be totally aware of your surroundings.”

ksaltzman@theeagleonline.com, kmagill@theeagleonline.com, crozen@theeagleonline.com

Correction appended: The original story misquoted Vaselli as saying the assailants put a gun "to his head." It has been updated to say that they put a gun "to me."


Never miss a story.

Get our weekly newsletter in your inbox.