EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 26, 2014

Bold robbers scope out Lawrence neighborhoods for 'distracted' victims, police say

By Sara Brown

---- — LAWRENCE — Simple, mundane tasks that people do every day — like carrying groceries into the house — can make unsuspecting city residents the targets of violent crooks who are scoping out the neighborhood.

That’s a growing trend that police have been observing in their recent efforts to crack down on armed robberies, according to acting Lawrence police Chief James Fitzpatrick.

“They have been attacking people who are distracted,” Fitzpatrick said in an interview yesterday, reflecting on the three armed robbery incidents that police responded to Friday night.

“They are distracted with either being on their phone or exiting their car. The one on Willow Street, involved someone getting groceries from their car,” he said.

The first armed robbery occurred on Willow Street at 9:13 p.m., followed by another incident at 10:00 p.m. on Hancock Street and a failed attempt on Dorchester Street 15 minutes later.

Lawrence police are looking for dark blue or dark gray Ford Explorer, with a loud exhaust. linked to two of the robberies.

Witnesses reported two suspects, both dressed in black, wearing dark ski masks — one with a weapon shown.

Fitzpatrick said all three involved residents either entering or exiting a home when the robberies occurred, which, he says has been a disturbing trend lately as police respond to a recent rash of armed robberies in the neighborhoods.

Another trend that has been occurring is that suspects have the getaway vehicle waiting a block away — instead near the robbery scene.

“Looking at the analysis, many times they will rob someone and run away from the scene to a car that is down the street or a block away. Sometimes, even further,” Fitzpatrick said.

This very tactic is what happened with the attempted robbery on Dorchester Street, according to police.

“They tried robbing someone getting out of a car, but he (the victim) got away and said he saw them running down the street.,” Fitzpatrick said. “We brought the K-9 unit out where we tracked them down to an abandoned alley way where we think a getaway vehicle was waiting for them,” he said.

After Friday night’s armed robberies, police had responded to 21 so far this year with a week remaining in the month. Police responded to an average of 23 armed robberies per month last year.

“Obviously, we still need to get that number down,” he said.

Ten days ago, Fitzpatrick created a special three-officer task force to focus on robbery “hot spots” throughout the city and activated a hotline (978-794-5900 X643) for citizens to report information about ongoing robberies and suspects carrying illegal firearms.

Also as part of the “Robbery Reduction Initiative,” Mayor Daniel Rivera began a practice of “knocking on doors” last weekend to give residents and business owners advice on how to avoid becoming victims of robberies.

“We are going to have to look and see if this is helping or not,” the chief said.

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