MPD, Community Want Answers in School Burglaries

Charnice A. Milton

Stills from surveillance video show three suspects breaking into Savoy Elementary on Nov. 25, 2013, and their car. The case is still open. Photo: Metropolitan Police Department

Savoy Elementary School played host to First Lady Michelle Obama and actress Kerry Washington last May. Six months later the school was host to a more unwelcome type of guest: the burglar. School burglaries are not uncommon, though the number was lower between August and December 2013 than around the same time in 2012. However, a recent spate of burglaries seems to have targeted Ward 8 more than other areas.

The Facts

Between August 2013 and January 2014, 18 schools were burglarized across the city. Seven of them were in Ward 8: Savoy, Johnson Middle, Excel Academy, Anacostia High, Ballou High, KIPP PCS, and Friendship PCS. During the Seventh District Community Advisory Council meeting in January, Lt. Sabrina Sims of the 7D Detective Office updated recent case developments. First, the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) closed the Friendship case and found a possible suspect in the Hart case. Second, they identified two juvenile burglary rings operating from Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. and 22nd St.; they believe that the former is responsible for most of the school burglaries in the area.

Of the affected Ward 8 schools Savoy gained the most attention. According to an MPD report several suspects entered Savoy around 11:46 p.m. on Nov. 25, stealing two televisions and several computers. However, DC Public Schools security did not call MPD; the following Monday, staff members found the doors open and called MPD to investigate. The security lapse was later attributed to human error, as the system had malfunctioned earlier that week. “So, the person who was responsible for monitoring the alarm, when the alarm started going off again ... they assumed it was another malfunction and treated it as such,” said Sims. MPD later recovered some of the equipment.

School Security

The recent burglaries have raised questions about the state of school security. MPD has two main units to ensure school safety, one of which is the School Safety Division (SSD). This unit's responsibilities include hiring and deploying school security personnel for DCPS and deploying School Resource Officers (SROs) to both DCPS and DC Public Charter Schools (DCPCS). “It is important to understand that SROs are first and foremost police officers who have a legal obligation to address crime and make arrests when a criminal offense occurs in their presence,” stated MPD's school safety report for this school year.

Although the report did not address burglaries, it discussed the importance of school security assessments in light of the Sandy Hook Elementary shootings in December 2012. “The Department, in partnership with the Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice and the DCPS Office of School Security, used this as an opportunity to review this important issue locally,” the report read. “Together, they have met with schools to discuss crisis preparedness, training, physical and personnel security, and internal and community linkages.” This includes safety assessment and facility-check training for DCPS and DCPCS, and facility tours with school administrators identifying vulnerable spots and enhancing security.

While preparation can help prevent crimes, human error can play a part in burglaries. “In some cases ... there have been times when the alarm systems haven't been set very well,” said 7D Cmdr. Robin Hoey. “The one good thing that they do have ... DCPS has good footage and our detectives are available to identify these people pretty quick.”

Can More Be Done?

Some community members wonder if more can be done. “I was angry when I heard,” said Arrington Dixon, director of the Anacostia Coordinating Council (ACC). “That equipment was for our kids.” Worth over $40,000, the stolen electronics represent recent investments for the school, including a School Improvement grant from the Turnaround Arts Initiative. The ACC, one of Anacostia's major community organizations, raised money for a reward and organized a community meeting with Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry (who couldn't be reached for comment) and DCPS representatives. “There was outrage,” Dixon said. One point of contention was the perceived lack of attention from MPD. “They've caught people on the other side of the river,” he said. “I don't want to think that we've been given less attention.”

Gwendolyn Crump, MPD's communications director, acknowledged that there were issues promoting the Savoy case. “The video for the Savoy Elementary School burglary probably was not publicized as quickly as we would have hoped,” she stated. “We apologize for any inconvenience and we are seeking the public’s assistance in identifying those responsible for this crime.” She also points out that MPD recently closed two school burglaries, including one located east of the river.

Community Help

While many school burglary cases are still open, MPD needs the community's help in solving them. “It's going to take someone who knows who they are to tell us who they are,” said Sims. “That's the biggest block that we're running into; we're not getting the support that we need with helping to identify them.” While security footage helps put a face to the crime, it may not be enough. “We've had many [cases] where they wore gloves, so there's no fingerprints,” Sims explained. “They use crowbars and things like that to pop the locks, and they don't leave stuff behind.” 

Dixon hopes that the Ward 8 community will remain vigilant on the issue. “We owe some responsibility to our children,” he said, urging cooperation with the police and creating positive awareness on the issue. “I hope this doesn't happen again.”

If you have information on any open cases call the police at 202-727-9099 or send a message to the Text Tip Line to 50411.