Five Arrested in National Mall Assaults
U.S. Park Police announced five arrests Friday in connection with a recent series of armed robberies and sexual assaults of nighttime visitors to the National Mall, the capital city’s leading tourist attraction.
The Park Police, which patrols the Mall, said the suspects were local teenagers and young adults, one of whom pleaded guilty to three counts of robbery and first-degree sexual abuse in the rape of a 17-year-old girl at gunpoint.
City officials hailed the arrests and offered assurances that the Mall, which features the Washington Monument, Lincoln and Jefferson memorials, and major Smithsonian museums, is safe for visitors at any time.
Washington has long battled a significant crime problem but has tried to insulate the Mall and other historic sites favored by tourists.
Twelve people, including two children, were victims of crimes that occurred in five separate incidents between May 25 and July 11 along approximately seven blocks of the Mall, from the Washington Monument to the Smithsonian’s Arts and Industries Building. Four of the victims were sexually assaulted, and one was kicked in the head and back.
City and police officials have since increased patrols in an effort to keep the Mall safe and restore its reputation after the highly publicized crimes threatened to put a crimp in tourism, the city’s No. 1 private industry. About 40 million people visit the National Mall & Memorial Parks each year, according to the Washington, D.C., Convention & Tourism Corp.
Though overall crime in Washington has been trending down in recent years, officials have seen a rise in robberies and arrests for weapons offenses -- particularly among juveniles -- in the last two months, prompting Metropolitan Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey to declare a city crime emergency for the third time in the last four summers.
The Mall robberies and assaults coincided with crime increases in other parts of the city, but police called it an aberration.
“The National Mall has always been a safe place,” Park Police spokesman Sgt. Scott Fear said. “We had this rash of crime that spilled over from the city into neighborhoods where it’s not common and, unfortunately, the National Mall was one of them.
“With these apprehensions of the individuals who were directly responsible for the crimes, we want to further assure people that the National Mall is a safe place 24 hours, seven days a week,” Fear added.
Two crimes have been reported on the Mall in the last month since the most recent robbery, and spokesmen for the Convention & Tourism Corp. say tourists continue to flock to the nation’s capital in high numbers.
Park Police Chief Dwight E. Pettiford said the arrests closed the investigations into the Mall crimes, but he added that increased police patrols would remain in place for at least the next two months.
“Even though we’ve made these arrests, we’re not changing our patrol patterns on the Mall,” Pettiford said. “Even though we have these people in custody, the public will continue to see a strong, uniform presence on the Mall.”