Baltimore researcher killing highlights issue of robberies

An apparent robbery last week claimed the life of a psychology researcher and supporter of Baltimore youth music education, again calling attention to the issue of robberies in the city.

After aggravated assaults, robberies are the second-most-prevalent violent crime reported to police — there have been more than 2,500 robberies so far this year — and are more likely to involve innocent victims.

They are also more likely to happen throughout the city. Though Roland Park hasn’t seen a shooting in years, there have been a handful of robberies at gunpoint this year, statistics show.

The Baltimore Sun has created an interactive map that shows where robberies in the city are taking place, what kind of incidents they are and in some cases, the weapon that was used.

Though there are no statistics, investigators say robberies have emerged as an increasing factor behind shootings and murders, even though drug disputes continue to drive the bulk of gun violence.

Peter Marvit, 51, who was returning home from chorus practice, was shot multiple times Monday night outside his home overlooking Herring Run Park. He was carrying bags, and police think he might have been confused for a food delivery driver; they have been targeted in many robberies in the Northeast District.

Robberies were behind some of the city’s highest-profile crimes in recent years, such as the killing of City Councilman Kenneth Harris at a North Baltimore jazz club and of Johns Hopkins researcher Stephen Pitcairn.

“Robberies have always been crimes of opportunity, and most people who commit robberies will continue until he or she is caught,” said Col. Jesse Oden, the chief of the Police Department’s Criminal Investigations Division. “If the suspect is a substance abuser, they might do six or seven robberies a day to feed their habit.”

More than 3,400 people were robbed in Baltimore last year, an increase from 2010 (though down considerably from a high of 12,000 robberies in 1993). In comparison, about 380 people were shot in 2011.

This year, overall robberies are down 5 percent, though street robberies are up slightly. Oden says robberies are difficult to solve, but notes that the closure rate this year is up, from 37 percent at this time last year to 42 percent.

Home-invasion robberies had also been a major of concern of police last year, but are currently down 20 percent, according to the most recent statistics.

Oden says the sharp long-term decrease is a testament to the focus by police and prosecutors on taking repeat offenders off the street.

“When a robbery is committed, we immediately go to our recidivist lists and do our ‘knock-and-talks,’” he said, referring to in-person visits.