This evening I had stepped outside of my apartment building to enjoy the nice post-storm weather. As some readers know, I live along the border of Adams Morgan and Columbia Heights. I've lived in this place for a little over two years, and I've written about how I've witnessed a few things that have led me to call the police. I've heard gunshots, I've seen car accidents, the usual city stuff. Tonight was a first, though, as I saw two men getting ready to rob someone.
I had stepped outside and was on the phone, when I saw two men standing around near the street corner. I thought it was a little odd, as there's nothing at this corner and they didn't seem to be talking to one another. The corner in question is between a side street and a major street. There's a lot of foot traffic on the major street, but very little on the side street. As soon as you turn the corner onto the side street, it's dark, and there's no building entrances or storefronts or houses for the whole block.
I saw the two men step back from the corner, maybe 10-15 feet down the street. There are bushes along the side street, so anyone walking up the major street wouldn't really see the men. Then they put masks on their faces and put up their hoods. I could only see them through the bushes while in the driveway of my building. I could see them watching the people on the major street, I assume, waiting for someone to turn onto the side street. At this point I called 911, and was promptly greeted with the bilingual hold message. I'm unsure if they spotted me, but I went back inside the lobby where I could still see them through a window. I was on hold for roughly 3 minutes or so, at which point the started walking further down the side street.
Once I got through to an operator, I gave the location and left a call back number, and the police were on scene probably within another 5 minutes or so. They called me back and asked if I could still see them, the answer of course being no at this point. They walked up and down the side street and then left.
Of course I don't blame the police for not finding them, by the time they arrived I'm sure they were blocks away. I wasn't able to provide a very detailed description, mostly because I wasn't too keen on walking up to them to see better. It's what, maybe 65 degrees out, so clearly there's no good reason for them to have bandanas or whatever they had over their faces and their hoods up. I have no idea if that's enough probable cause to search someone for weapons, but maybe it should be.
The point here isn't to criticize the police response, though the hold time was a bit frustrating. Instead, it's only to say again what is obvious to most people in a city--it's extremely easy for someone to mug you. They could have easily robbed someone right there, mere feet from an intersection. I've lived in the city for a while now, so I know what suspicious behavior looks like, but I saw people jogging with their iPods and walking their dogs while on their phones, and otherwise being very distracted. This happened around 9:45pm, which I think a lot of people might not be on their guard.
So yeah, everyone, always be aware of your surroundings.