The perfect crime may be the one that goes unreported. In January, police arrested leaders of a Harlem gang that, police say, terrorized drug dealers with a series of over 100 home-invasion robberies. The leaders were also allegedly involved in three murders.
The arrest served to spotlight home-invasion robberies, which, according to federal crime statistics, have been increasing nationwide.
Home invasion robberies, which involve either using force or a ruse to enter someone’s home, are not uncommon in the drug trade, in part because the robbers can be confident that the victims will be reluctant to call the police. In December, 2003, the Drug Enforcement Administration and local police arrested drug dealers who, according to DEA"obtained a large amount of their cocaine and heroin by committing violent home invasion robberies of other drug dealers, often in large apartment buildings, endangering the public." And police noted that the Bronx gang would sometimes target the wrong apartment, robbing people who had nothing to do with the drug trade. The elderly are also frequent targets of such crimes.
Overall, home invasion and push-in robberies (where entrance is gained by following someone to their door or through a ruse) can be traumatizing and can easily escalate into violence.
The New York Police Department declined to release statistics on these types of robberies. However, nationwide statistics released by the FBI show that, while robberies have been decreasing overall, robberies occurring at a residence increased every year from 1999 through 2003, the most recent year statistics are available.
By 2003, residence robberies had increased by 18 percent from 1999. (In contrast, the total number of robberies rose by 1 percent over the same time period.) Most robberies in the United States still happen on the street, but about 14 percent of all robberies took place at a residence in 2003. In the northeast, that number drops to about 9 percent.
New York police, in the past, have held special seminars in neighborhoods where push-in robberies are a problem, warning residents not to fall for the ruses sometimes used by robbers. For example, a robber might knock on the door and claim to be a building inspector or a deliveryperson.
The elderly can be particularly vulnerable to these ruses, as well as to being followed into their homes by a stranger. In 2001, then-Assemblymember Jeffery Klein noticed a sharp spike in push-in robberies in the Pelham Parkway section of the Bronx, about 20 robberies in a two-month span accounting for a surge of about 60 percent. Most targeted the elderly, Klein recalled. Now a state senator, Klein said police found that many apartment doors did not have functioning peepholes and that that lead to many of the crimes. With support from a state grant, police and community organizations, and a local company, about 750 peepholes were installed, leading to a sharp reduction in push-in robberies, Klein said.
Robbers sometimes claim to be police in order to get people to open their doors, perhaps especially troubling to the actual police. But such an impersonation, while involving a separate criminal charge, does not typically lead to a stiffer sentence upon conviction, according to James Evangelou, chief of the Career Criminal Major Crime Bureau for the Queens County district attorney’s office. Neither does the law do much to distinguish between home invasions and street robberies, said Evangelou.
Several years ago, accordin g to the New York Times, some Manhattan residents worried that a strong police presence was keeping criminals off the streets but leading to an increase in push-in robberies. With Operation Impact, the a police effort to increase patrols in high-crime neighborhoods, dramatically increasing the police presence in some neighborhoods, the same concern might arise today. Police though point to statistics that show overall robberies have declined by about 26 percent in neighborhoods where Operation Impact has been in effect.
Terry Rodie, district manager for Brooklyn Community Board 14, which includes Flatbush and Midwood, expressed doubt about whether such a link between police and push-in robberies could exist in her neighborhood. But, she added, "that doesn't mean it couldn't be true. The same theory could be said for a snowstorm."“I think that’s more some kind of a [folk] taleâ€¦but I don’t mean to say it could not be true,” said Rodie. “The same theory could be said for a big snowstorm.”