Local News

Raleigh police cracking down on robbery rise

Posted July 11, 2008 8:37 p.m. EDT
Updated July 12, 2008 6:31 a.m. EDT

— The arrests of three men in connection with a string of violent armed robberies is evidence that Raleigh police are making these types of crimes a priorities, Police Chief Harry Dolan said.

Through July 6, police reported 550 robberies this year – an increase of 132, or nearly 33 percent, over the same time period in 2007.

"We're never used to this stuff in Raleigh, and now in the past couple years, it's been going on," said Ricky Ajaj, the owner of the Raleigh Beverage Mart, 5 Glenwood Ave., which was robbed a week ago.

However, the start of the year saw a 50 percent increase in robberies, and police officers claim an aggressive campaign is helping temper the surge of robberies.

"Everybody is paying attention to this issue," Dolan said.

Police have arrested 223 people on 319 charges related to robberies. That's nearly a 38 percent increase in robbery-related arrests and a  61 percent rise in the number of charges brought against suspected robbers.

The arrest of three men in the robbery of Ajaj's store are an example of that stepped-up enforcement.

The suspects – David Michael Wesley, 18, of Knightdale; Samuel Kieth Kerr, 21, of Raleigh; and Raphael Davonne Powell, 24, of Raleigh – face 22 other charges in eight other Raleigh robberies since March 3. Other charges are pending.

On Friday, Judge Shelly Desvougess increased the bonds for all three men to between $150,000 and $450,000, saying the original amounts, all under $55,000, were not in line with suggested Wake County guidelines.

Despite such success, some residents said they are still scared by the violence associated with robberies.

"They're armed, and they seem to be very aggressive, going from place to place," said artist Karen Cain, who rents a studio near Raleigh Beverage. "And that seems odd; they're bold, because they keep on going."

"When somebody has a gun, I feel that they will use that weapon," Cain added.

Ajaj said his employee might not be able to return to work due to the fear the robbery stirred up.

Several high-profile violent robbery sprees have recently caught the public's attention, including that of Samuel James Cooper. He stands accused of five murders, all of them related to robbery, between May 2006 and October 2007.

Dolan, though, says that The Raleigh Police Department's enforcement efforts are getting the upper hand against robbers.

"We're turning the corner ... and making great headway with arrests and prevention," Dolan said.

Every officer in the force has completed an armed-robbery suppression program, Dolan said. The chief has approved overtime for more officers to work during peak hours when robberies occur, such as early morning and late evenings when businesses open and close.

Teamwork within the department is also key, Dolan said. A statistician studies trends to determine where crimes are occurring and where more law enforcement is needed.

The community has stepped up to help police crack robberies, Dolan said. Crime Stoppers has gotten numerous tips, especially when surveillance photos are released publicly through the media.

For example, tips generated by surveillance photos helped lead to the arrest of Wesley, Kerr and Powell.

"People are concerned and aware," Dolan said.