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Police Ask Residents To Be 'First Line of Defense' Against Crime

The Arlington County Police Department will hold its final community crime forum tonight at Key Elementary School.

The spate of violent crimes this summer had Arlington County homicide detectives working around the clock.

Some detectives, after the highly publicized killing of a Columbia Pile jewelry store owner, did not sleep for 36 to 48 hours.

"We knew (the suspect) was going to do it again," Police Capt. Michelle Nuneville said recently at a community forum at the Arlington Career Center on Walter Reed Drive. "So, that was a relief when we got him off the street."

The death of Tommy Wong was one of four homicides that stirred the community. After going more than two years with zero murders, this summer saw a murder-suicide, the murder of Wong, and a double-homicide that remains open. Investigators say they hope to make an arrest in the latter case soon. 

Arlington police have been holding a series of community forums to talk about area crime trends, including events in North Arlington and the Crystal City/Pentagon City area. The last one is at 7 p.m. today at Key Elementary School.

Police Chief Doug Scott has said he wanted to make himself available following a more-violent-than-usual summer. The meetings have drawn maybe 20 to 30 people each, and many of them associated with civic associations.

Still, police are trying to get across a number of messages to help people stay safe.

Some of the information is a constant refrain:

  • When walking, particularly on trails, always try to take someone with you, carry a cell phone and don't keep both ear buds in if you're listening to music. Be aware of your surroundings. Make eye contact with passersby.
  • As the country enters "robbery season" along with the holidays, don't make large transactions at ATMs or leave packages in plain view in your vehicles. 
  • If you're going out of town for the holidays, let your neighbors know. If you have lights on a timer, set them to come on at different times. Rather than stop your mail and newspaper delivery, ask a neighbor to collect it for you — you can even ask them to drive your car around the neighborhood a few times.
  • If you ride a bike, always use a U-lock. Simple tools can cut through chains in under a minute.
  • If someone calls or comes to your door offering services or asking for money, do your due diligence. Check for a business license, ask for second opinions. If someone asks for personal information over the phone, hang up and call them back.

"You can do a lot to protect yourself," said Capt. Brett Butler, the police department's third district commander. "We can't be there all the time. So if you can be that first line of defense for personal safety, we can be that second piece."

One thing that can cause crime statistics to increase is more people reporting actual crimes. Butler said no one should hesitate to contact police if they feel they've witnessed or been the victim of a crime.

"In the instances where your Spider-Sense is tingling? Let us figure it out," he said. "We're not going to judge you. We've got a lot of very aggressive officers who want to catch bad guys."

A majority of the burglaries in the Columbia Pike area aren't "gun-in-your-face" robberies, Butler said. Rather, they're more likely to involve someone pushing you down and rummaging through your pockets. Small items — iPods, smart phones, wallets — are high-theft items.

Most burglaries from homes have been into ground-level units, often through unsecured doors or windows.

The Washington, D.C., area has the third-highest concentration of prostitution in the country, police said. Las Vegas typically has been No. 1, but with the slump in the economy, prostitutes have been moving to locations with more reliable business — and the greater Washington area offers a steady stream of professionals as potential clientele.

Many "independent contractors," police said, advertise where they'll be online — a hotel, maybe, or sometimes a residence — at what times and schedule clients that way, police said.

The Columbia Pike area has seen 11 rapes so far this year, police said. Only one of those involved a stranger attacking a stranger; the rest were by known acquaintances.

Gang activity has decreased in recent years, and many remaining gang members are doing less in the public eye. Police said their primary concern here is preventing an increase of gangs in schools, so school resource officers are on the lookout for indications a young person is getting involved in a gang and intervene.

"I was very impressed," said Ana Danaher of Arlington. "It's good to hear what they're doing about these cases. We think it's very important to know what is going on in the community."

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