Baltimore City

City home-invasion robberies on rise

The man wore a skull cap over his face, with the eyes cut out and the word " Superman" on the side.

Armed with a black shotgun, he pushed his way into an apartment in Northeast Baltimore near Morgan State University and ordered eight people onto the ground, rifling through their pockets and taking cash, jewelry, phones and a laptop, according to a police report.

For their troubles, the attacker offered these parting words: "Everyone have a good day."

The crime was one of a growing number of residential robberies, or home invasions, in Baltimore this year. It's an area that police are trying to get a handle on as other types of crimes are falling.

Residential robberies were up 34 percent through April 3, compared with the same period a year ago. It's the only category of crime on the rise. Homicides, rapes and overall robberies are down by double-digit percentages, according to police.

Police say they can't pinpoint any driving force behind the uptick, and they aren't ready to blame a still-struggling economy or drug activity.

The increase is being felt across the city, but most heavily in Northwest Baltimore, which has notched 21 residential robberies compared with eight at this time last year.

Northeast Baltimore has seen the second highest-total, with 19, and the Southern District's total has doubled, to 14 from seven.

Unlike a burglary, a residential robbery requires the presence of a victim in the home or business and the taking of property through force or fear. A burglary, also referred to as breaking and entering, does not involve an encounter with the owner and might not even entail theft.

Maj. Johnny Delgado, who commands the Northwest District, downplayed the spike, saying that in several cases attackers entered homes with the intention of burglarizing but encountered residents, as opposed to forcing their way in with the intention of confronting the victim.

He also says police have made inroads on the problem. Statistics show only three of the incidents in his district have occurred during the past month.

"We had one or two people who fit that category, where it was a burglary gone bad," Delgado said. "We made some arrests last month and have kind of shut that down."

Anthony Guglielmi, the Police Department's chief spokesman, said Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III noticed the uptick earlier this year and asked the Criminal Investigations Division to examine whether there is "nexus between home invasions and drug crimes." He said the research so far has not uncovered any links or underlying factors.

The rise is not unique to Baltimore; Bealefeld said in February that he was contacted last year by Washington Police Chief Cathy Lanier, who told him the District of Columbia was experiencing a "marked increase" in home invasions.

In an e-mail, Lanier confirmed that district police saw a spike late last year, but she said such incidents are down 31 percent so far this year. She said police in the district characterize home invasions as "burglaries while armed."

"Because of our policing strategies, we are seeing a big decline this year," Lanier said.

Bealefeld has made robberies a priority this year, saying those involved in those crimes can be tied to much of the city's gun violence. In August, Baltimore police began breaking out residential robberies, along with carjackings and street and commercial robberies, as a crime category on weekly crime-data spreadsheets.

Prosecutors have also been pushing police to adopt new protocols to improve robbery investigations and prosecutions.

Recent victims include two girls, ages 8 and 13, , whose front door in West Forest Park was kicked down by four men after the girls refused to answer, according to a police report. Three of the men ransacked two bedrooms and the living room while one watched the front door, then fled out the back. The girls called 911.

In another incident, masked men armed with silver-colored handguns forced their way into a Northwest Baltimore apartment and robbed two brothers. They were apparently familiar with their victims, demanding to know, "Where's the PSP?" referring to a portable video-game console.

With the brothers lying on the floor, the attackers took two video-game consoles, a phone, a laptop and a digital camera.

Police said both cases remain unsolved.