Mark E. Vogler
---- — LAWRENCE — Mayor Daniel Rivera plans to go “knocking on doors” this weekend to give residents and business owners advice on how to avoid becoming victims of robberies.
Acting Police Chief James Fitzpatrick has created a special three-officer task force to focus on robbery “hot spots” throughout the city and activated a hotline for citizens to report information about ongoing robberies and suspects carrying illegal firearms.
It’s all part of a “Robbery Reduction Initiative” announced yesterday by the mayor and the police chief in response to a rapid rise in armed robberies reported so far this year — including six last Saturday night.
“We’re doing over one a day,” Fitzpatrick said of the armed robberies in an interview last night.
“There have been 16 robberies since the beginning of January. We’re up 30 percent for the year already,” the chief said.
With police responding to 280 robberies last year, they averaged about 23-a-month. So far this year, robberies are averaging 30-a-month, according to the chief.
“We identified this as an issue back in November and December. It was starting to accelerate back then,” the chief said.
There were 18 armed robberies in December 2013, compared with 14 in December 2012.
Yesterday’s announcement comes on the heels of recent meetings between the mayor and the Police Department Command staff over crime analysis data that showed disturbing patterns in the city, according to the mayor.
“They talked to me, using the crime analysis, which showed where the hot spots are — and that made a case for this initiative,” Rivera said in an interview last night.
“We’re going to be on offense, going after perpetrators in the places where it’s happening the most. I’m going to be hands-on, on this. I think the chief and his staff are smart in the way they are going about this. They looked at the data and adopted a plan. We’re going to make Lawrence safer,” the mayor vowed.
The task force will include three officers at any one time, drawing from uniform patrol and detectives on a rotation. The officers will be deployed on the street during the 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. shift and from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m., according to Fitzpatrick. He noted that most of the robberies happened between 10 p.m. and 3 a.m.
Officers assigned to the task force will be using a “park and walk” strategy in target areas, so police can interact with citizens and also confront potential robbery suspects.
“They’re going to be walking where they’re visible, the chief said. “We’re going to do field encounters, checking out people walking around the neighborhood,” he said.
The initial focus will be on the north part of the city, where most of the robberies have occurred.
Rivera said he and his neighborhood liaison Wendy Luzon will be walking the Park and Lawrence streets area this weekend, handing out flyers that offer tips to citizens and business owners about how to protect themselves from robberies.
“We’re not trying to alarm anyone, we’re just trying to inform people,” Rivera said.
“People need to be aware of their surroundings, and there are some things they can do to protect themselves. Most of these things are happening late at night when people should be home any way,” he said.
Police are discouraging residents from walking alone after dark and holding valuable items like smart phones in plain view. Most of the items robbed are cell phones, according to police.
The Police Department activated a special hotline 978-794-5900 X643 yesterday that citizens can call to report information that might help police in their crackdown on robberies.
As part of the initiative, the Lawrence Public Schools will use school resource officers to educate students on crime prevention strategies.