After two people suspected in at least five recent armed robberies in Federal Hill were arrested last month, police say such crimes have dropped off in the neighborhood.
The same is true in Pigtown, where two people were arrested after a spate of robberies there, police said.
Police officials say they are cracking robbery cases in South Baltimore by tracking credit card transactions, scouring neighborhood surveillance footage and canvassing neighborhoods in their patrol cars after muggings occur — often with victims in the back seat, who are brought along to identify their attackers if spotted on the street.
Detectives are also pushing out information to the area's active community groups to drive community engagement — and elicit neighborhood intelligence — to help combat the issue of street crime, they said.
"We've had multiple cases that have been closed by putting cases out on social media and getting a name of an unknown suspect who we were unfamiliar with, and then we would be able to put that into a photo array, hopefully show the victim and get a positive hit," said Lt. William Simmons, who supervises robbery detectives in the Southern District.
Earlier this month, The Baltimore Sun reported that robberies in the city — including street, residential and commercial robberies and carjackings — were at a five-year high as of the end of July, while the department's robbery clearance rate was at a five-year low, at 12.7 percent.
However, this week, police said the 12.7 percent calculation they provided did not take into account all cleared cases because it relied on a database that did not provide up-to-date information. The clearance rate through the end of August was actually 33 percent, they said, compared with 45 percent at the same time last year.
In the Southern District through August, there were 208 robberies, compared to 187 at the same time last year. The clearance rate in the district is 43 percent this year, compared to 55 percent last year.
Both Federal Hill and Pigtown saw summer spikes, but numbers have improved in recent weeks with the arrests, police said. Willie Fryson and Travis Parker were arrested in the Federal Hill robberies, while Deandre Spears and Anthony Covington were arrested in Pigtown, police said. Detectives have warrants out for additional suspects as well, they said, though they did not identify those suspects.
The number of arrests in the city plummeted in May after six Baltimore police officers were charged in the April arrest and death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray from injuries sustained while in police custody. Arrests have rebounded since.
Police suspect national dynamics may be playing a role in the increase in violent crime. Detective Erin Masters, who works robberies in the Southern District, wonders if "the civil unrest and the negative opinions about law enforcement" are playing a role. All she knows for sure is that the Southern District isn't alone.
"It's not our district or our department in particular," she said. "Violent crime has gone up all across the country."
Masters said enforcement efforts have been stepped up in neighborhoods that have seen spikes, including in Pigtown and Federal Hill.
Simmons said more guns are being taken off Baltimore's streets under a new partnership between police and federal law enforcement agencies, and he hopes that will cut down on the number of armed robberies.
The department, Simmons said, takes every robbery — not just clusters of robberies — seriously, because finding suspects after one robbery is what prevents that person from committing others.
Simmons called on members of the community to stay alert.
"Most robberies are crimes of opportunity. They'll look for a victim that's walking alone, not paying attention to their surroundings," he said. "Everyone has 24/7 access to their phones, so they're walking with it, they're talking to someone, listening to music through it, checking Facebook. And the suspects see them walking, especially late at night in Federal Hill where some of the streets may be dark. The phone's illuminated," he said.
The two men arrested in Federal Hill were "circling the block looking for someone walking, and then they would get out and the armed robbery would occur," he said.
"The majority of our robberies are lone victims, walking alone," Simmons said. "Try to walk in pairs."