5 arrested in National Mall crime


WASHINGTON -- U.S. Park Police announced five arrests yesterday in 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, charged with patrolling the Mall, said the suspects are local teenagers and young adults.

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 of day.

Washington has long battled a significant crime problem but has strived to insulate the Mall and other historic sites favored by tourists.

Twelve people, including two children, were victims of crimes that occurred in five incidents between May 25 and July 11 along an approximately seven-block stretch of the Mall from the Washington Monument to the Smithsonian Arts and Industries building. Four victims were sexually assaulted, and one was kicked in the head and back.

City and police officials have since ramped up police 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 Convention & Tourism Corp.

Though overall crime in Washington has been declining in recent years, officials have seen an increase in robberies and arrests for weapons offenses - particularly among juveniles - in the past two months, prompting Metropolitan Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey to declare a city crime emergency for the third time in the past 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," U.S. 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.

Only two crimes have been reported on the Mall in the past month since the most recent robbery, and officials for the Convention & Tourism Corp. say tourists continue to flock to the nation's capital in high numbers.

Heather Gehlert writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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