In a police chase that crosses into Washington D.C., such as the one that followed the Cartier smash-and-grab on Tuesday, Montgomery County Police must carefully weigh the seriousness of the crime against the legality and risk of entering another jurisdiction.
Some worry that makes areas near the Maryland-D.C. line vulnerable to criminals who know they may not be pursued into the District. The robbery on Chevy Chase’s ritzy stretch of high-end stores, nicknamed the Rodeo Drive of the East Coast, follows the January robbery at the Jimmy Choo store a few doors down.
About 40 minutes after the Cartier robbery, as police interviewed employees and reporters gathered on the sidewalk, a man reportedly shoplifted from the Gap store across the street before fleeing to the Friendship Heights Metro station on the Western Avenue border.
Montgomery County Police’s pursuit of the Cartier suspects ended a little more than two miles into D.C., according to scanner traffic.
Unless the crime is violent, Montgomery County Police spokesperson and Capt. Paul Starks said officers won’t cross into D.C. Fresh pursuits are dangerous and often end in accidents. Liability and risk are concerns.
“We’re going into another jurisdiction. We’re leaving the state of Maryland. You know our butts are hanging out,” Starks said. “We’re not getting involved in that.”
At 11:08 a.m. on Tuesday, police got a call for a robbery that had just occurred. Police say a group of masked and gloved men gained entry to the store, tussled with a security guard and “took control” of the store and its four employees without the use of weapons, but through “their presence.”
Within a minute, they smashed a glass case in the back of the store and stole an unspecified amount of merchandise. Starks said Police don’t divulge the value of stolen merchandise in these cases.
According to scanner traffic after the robbery, the suspects took 12 watches worth about $150,000.
The suspects entered a late-model black Dodge Charger and went north on Wisconsin Avenue, followed by at least one Montgomery County Police officer. The suspects then crossed over to southbound Connecticut Avenue, apparently via Bradley Lane, before an officer in pursuit observed the car going in the wrong direction along Chevy Chase Circle, which sits on the D.C. line.
The officer told dispatch when he passed Ingomar Street NW, recorded going approximately 55 miles per hour past Huntington Street NW and soon said he was passing the Van Ness Metro station. He last observed the Dodge Charger turning left onto Porter Street, near the Cleveland Park Metro station, and stopped the pursuit.
About 40 minutes later, a D.C. police officer pursuing the Dodge Charger in Southeast lost control of his vehicle and crashed into a parked truck.
“The question to pursue or not is based on a variety of factors such as the seriousness of the crime, traffic and weather conditions, and most importantly, the risk to the officer and the public in general,” Montgomery County Police 2nd District Commander Capt. David Falcinelli said. “Pursuits are always closely monitored and constantly assessed until the pursuit ends or a decision is made to terminate.”
A 2010 study from the FBI looked at police pursuits nationwide in a four-year period in the 90′s. On average, one law enforcement officer was killed every 11 weeks in a pursuit and one out of every 100 high-speed pursuits resulted in a fatality. Innocent third parties made up 42 percent of persons killed or injured.
Most states, including Maryland and D.C., allow officers from other states to enter in fresh pursuit of a person “on the ground that he/she is believed to have committed a felony” in the pursuing officer’s State.
Notably, the Virginia Attorney General’s office has interpreted “committed” to mean that an officer need only have reasonable grounds or probable cause to suspect, rather than actual knowledge that a felony has been committed.
“Agencies’ individual pursuit policies may be more restrictive than state law,” Falcinelli said.
Law enforcement in other areas that border D.C. have experienced a similar challenge.
In Takoma Park, thieves have targeted a group of three gas stations along the city’s New Hampshire Avenue corridor to the tune of a dozen thefts from vehicles and a few vehicle thefts each year since 2010. Police there have said the thieves target the area because it is so close to D.C.
In a January incident, the Takoma Park/Silver Spring Voice reported Takoma Park Police observed three suspects leaving one of the gas stations in a stolen car. Since auto theft is a felony, officers were able to pursue the suspects into the District for about five miles until the stolen car crashed into a dump truck and the suspects were apprehended.
In the last several years, Falcinelli said Montgomery County Police have increased communication and intelligence sharing with D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department. County Police officers can communicate directly with MPD officers via a reserved radio channel.
Falcinelli said he is in constant communication with MPD 2nd District Commander Michael Reese, and his 2nd District officers share and combine resources as necessary to combat crime along the District border.
“We share information on bad guys and gals in our communities, crime trends and other pertinent information to ensure we are approaching crime-fighting from a regional point of view,” Falcinelli said.
The pricey retail shops of Chevy Chase remain a target. In the Jimmy Choo case, police said three suspects spent only 10 to 15 seconds in the store as they grabbed handbags before leaving in a red, four-day sedan waiting outside on Wisconsin Avenue.
Many of the stores have a security guard on-duty. Some require customers to be buzzed in. One unmasked suspect in the Cartier robbery gained access through the front door before holding it open for the other masked suspects, police said.
Starks said some of the stores use off-duty police officers as guards, part of the reason why the response to the Cartier robbery was so quick. An off-duty Montgomery County Police officer near the scene assisted in the response.
“We also encourage business owners to invest in the latest industry security and technology measures to protect them and their employees during event’s like [Tuesday’s] robbery,” Falcinelli said. “We ask that our residents be our eyes and ears.”