Amid arrests in crime wave, residents concerned about police communication

Police told residents that a robbery crew responsible for 20 or more attacks in North Baltimore and other areas may have coordinated their crimes through social media, and used a route that led to a cash-for-cell phne kiosk in Towson. 

The account comes from Benn Ray, owner of Atomic Books and president of the Hampden Merchants Association, and residents on the Wyman Park list serv, who said police addressed the crimes at a community meeting Friday night.

Police have provided few details to the media and public in general, and had not initially addressed the crimes as they were taking place until accounts began emerging in the media. But at the same time, police discussed trying to circumvent the media and do a better job of communicating directly with resident associations, according to those present. 

In recent years, police have vowed to increase transparency, urging residents to sign up for email alerts that would be tailored to specific neighborhoods and police districts. and more recently starting a social media campaign with the Twitter hashtag, "#ASaferBaltimore." But it rarely utilized the e-mail system, and Twitter remains a venue for shootings and gun arrests.

So as police hail the arrests, the discussion has in many ways shifted to how police communicate with the public, with the wave of robberies in neighborhoods that see few, if any, shootings - such as Roland Park, Wyman Park, Little Italy, and Butcher's Hill, stoking renewed interest about getting information on crime. 

"There was a lot of discussion about how police can communicate better with the community associations so we have timely, reliable information rather than rumors," wrote one resident in a message on the Wyman Park neighborhood list serv.

Ray wrote on his blog that police said they believe the crime wave started in July, with the suspects accessing the area via 28th Street and stealing a car along the way, "then driving through the area and taking advantage of opportunities to mug as many people as possible."

"It was implied that the pathway they were following leads them to Towson where there is a kiosk machine that will give you cash for cell phones," Ray wrote. "And that they later dump the vehicle, stealing a new one the next time they want to do crimes - making it nearly impossible to track them."

The crimes were called "lick-n-hits," police said, according to Ray. Police said Friday that they had charged three juveniles - ages 15, 16 and 17 - with one being charged as an adult, but Ray said police told residents that a 21-year-old named Demetrius Carter had also been charged. 

Police could not verify that information, but court records show Carter, of the 1200 block of Gittings Ave., was taken into custody on Thursday and charged with a robbery that was committed on Aug. 2. The records show police obtained the warrant for Carter on Aug. 9. Carter was put on probation with a six-year suspended prison sentence in June, stemming from a drug distribution conviction. 

Police told the residents that the crime spree began when a girl stole her friend's car, and the car was used in the first mugging in another neighborhood. "This made it easy to trace back the connections," Ray wrote. 

The crew does not appear to be connected to the shooting of 36-year-old Zeb Drinkwater, who was shot and wounded in Roland Park last week. Police provided more details about the shooting at the neighborhood meeting, saying Drinkwater had escorted a woman to her car at around 1:45 a.m. when a man approached and told her to open her door and hand over her cell phone. 

Ray wrote that Drinkwater saw the commotion, returned to the car and distracted the man long enough for her to drive off, but he was shot as he tried to make it back to his home. 

"At this point, police have no leads on the shooter," Ray wrote. 

Ray said the shooting has residents particularly rattled. "The area is, and will remain, understandably freaked out about the shooting as we are a neighborhood unaccustomed to gun violence," Ray wrote. "So while it seems the police hope to calm us down with arrests with the Lick-n-Hits, we will remain on edge and upset until an arrest is made in the Drinkwater shooting."


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