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Crimes On The Rise

Crime has risen in Alexandria for the first time since 1994.

Crime was up by 10.9 percent in 2001 from that of the previous year, according to figures released by the police department last week. This still represents a 30 percent decrease in crime from 10 years ago. Homicide was the only crime that decreased. In 2000, there were four murders in the city and in 2001 there were only three.

Rape increased by 68.8 percent in 2001 from 16 in 2000 to 27 last year. Robbery increased by 13.1 percent from 153 in 2000 to 173 in 2001. Aggravated assault increased from 151 in 2000 to 185 in 2001, an increase of 22.5 percent. There were 536 burglaries in 2000 and 578 in 2001, an increase of 7.8 percent. Larceny increased by 11.6 percent from 3,724 in 2000 to 4,157 in 2001. Auto theft rose by 5.3 percent from 733 in 2000 to 772 in 2001.

Police note that with a growing population and expanding retail industry, the opportunity for crime also increases. The per capita crime rate (or crimes per 1000 residents) for 2001 was 45.9, compared with 41.1 in 2000 and 46.7 in 1999. Violent crime went up 16.5 percent last year, and property crime increased 10.3 percent, spurred by a 26 percent jump in vehicle-related thefts, such as stolen stereos, cellular phones and auto.

“THE ALEXANDRIA POLICE DEPARTMENT is committed to turning these numbers around, and we are starting to see some improvement already this year,” said Chief Charles Samarra. “Officers are working specialized details to target street robberies, and burglaries appear to be on the way down following the recent arrests of a couple of residential burglars.”

Samarra added, “We appreciate the continued support of the City Council, city manager’s office, commonwealth attorney’s office and our citizens and business people. As we deal with the challenges of terrorism and the national attention now upon our city,m we won’t forget the basic needs and concerns of the people of Alexandria.”

NEIGHBORHOOD CRIME WATCH

One of the steps that citizens can take to decrease crime is to get involved in Neighborhood Watch. Officer Mike Keegan began the program in Alexandria more than 20 years ago and is still involved.

“We began the program in the city, originally, because we were concerned about the increase in home burglaries and we saw that it had been successful in some other jurisdictions,” Keegan said. “We wanted people to just pay attention to what was going on in their neighborhoods and report suspicious activity to the police.”

There are now 116 Neighborhood Watch programs in Alexandria, some more active than others. Ruby Fitzgerald has been a street captain since the early ‘80s.

“I got involved because one night when my husband was walking the dog in our neighborhood, he was stopped by men with a gun who demanded that he give them his money,” Fitzgerald said. “He wasn’t hurt but I knew then that I needed to get involved.”

Fitzgerald has stayed involved. “I put out a monthly crime report and let neighbors know what is happening in the neighborhood,” she said. “We all know each other – we know the children’s names, the names of the pets, who’s on vacation and who might need some extra support and we provide it. If we see something that doesn’t look right, we check into it and let the police know so that they can investigate. All it requires is neighbors working together to have a safer place to live.”

RAY KAZANJIAN HAS ALSO BEEN a street captain for nearly 220 years. “I became the street captain when the lady who was doing it for our neighborhood moved away,” Kazanjian said. “This program really is important in keeping our neighborhoods safe.”

Samarra agrees. “Neighborhood Watch is a grassroots program, originally established to build neighborhood cohesion and reduce crimes such as residential burglaries,” he said.

“The program has been successful, not only reducing crime but also producing communities that are safer, friendlier and more caring places to live. Recent events have reemphasized why the program began and the idea we are all responsible for the safety of our community and our nation.

"We must continue to be vigilant and alert to suspicious activity. We encourage every neighborhood that does not have a neighborhood watch to contact us at 703-838-4520 and we will help get you started.”