Long Branch robbers could be targeting victims carrying cash
Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2006
Robberies in the Long Branch neighborhood of Silver Spring have increased since June 1, according to Montgomery County Police, and some say the robbers could be targeting Hispanic men carrying cash.
Eight of the 20 reported robberies occurred between the 8400 and 8800 blocks of Piney Branch Road. In the three months prior to what police now call a trend, there were 18 robberies in the area; 12 of the victims were Hispanic men, said Lucille Baur, a spokeswoman for Montgomery County Police.
Long Branch has a high concentration of Latino residents, and area residents and business owners say robberies targeting Hispanic men are not a new problem.
‘‘It’s a combination of reasons why this could be happening. First, the majority of the community is Latino and immigrants,” said Gustavo Torres, executive director of Casa of Maryland, an organization headquartered in Long Branch that advocates for immigrant workers. ‘‘Second, many of the community members receive their payments in cash.”
Torres said a large number of men in the area are day laborers who pocket the cash they make at the end of the day before heading home, rather than depositing the money in checking or savings accounts. Casa of Maryland and community leaders are working with banks in the area to get more residents to sign up for accounts.
However, some say the move of the Montgomery County Police substation from a trailer near University Boulevard to a storefront on Piney Branch Road in recent weeks has helped alleviate crime.
Robert Musgrove, the manager at Piney Branch Hardware on Flower Avenue, said in his 15 years in the neighborhood, the situation has improved with the greater police presence. It still gets ‘‘shoddy” at night with panhandlers and gang activity, he said. But he hasn’t heard about nearly as much violence and crime as before the substation came to the area more than five years ago and in the weeks it moved into the shopping center at Piney Branch Road and Flower Avenue.
But others say they are still fending for themselves. Joanna Ventura, whose father owns the Casa Veiga convenience store on Flower Avenue where she works, moves her car from a regular spot down the street to directly outside the store around 8 p.m. every night. She said there have been attempted break-ins at the shop minutes after they lock up.
‘‘You can’t rely on police. You have to rely on yourself,” Ventura said.
Linh Nguyen, owner of the Vietnamese grocery store Dong-Phuong on Piney Branch Road, agrees. In his 22 years at his store, he’s grown more cautious after dark..
However, at least six of the robberies since June occurred during daylight hours, some even in the middle of the afternoon. Capt. J. Mitchell Cunningham, the commander of Montgomery County Police’s Third District in Silver Spring, said there may be witnesses who aren’t coming forward because they are reluctant to deal with officers or have concerns about their undocumented status.
‘‘It’s likely that the suspects are from the area,” Cunningham said. ‘‘This trend that we’re working on is characterized by Hispanic suspects victimizing Hispanic victims. Issues that relate to anyone’s status here... that’s simply not an issue. We’re not concerned with immigration status.”
Cunningham added that many of the victims were carrying large amounts of cash. Most of the suspects have been between 18 to 30 years old, and no one suspect is responsible. Knives and guns were used in about half of the robberies. Victims have also included three white men, an Asian man and two Hispanic women.
Patricia Risinger, manager at the Department of Health and Human Services center on Piney Branch Road, said she hasn’t felt intimidated by talk of crime in the area. She sees the situation ‘‘half full,” she said, while police may see it ‘‘half empty.”
Joe Rodriguez, who owns the Americana Supermarket on Piney Branch Road, said he wasn’t even aware of a problem. The incidents he can recall on his property included an early-morning robbery of a truck driver outside and a theft in the store, but police responded immediately. Overall, he said, he feels safe.
‘‘We have robberies in Georgetown, Crystal City, Bethesda... no place is safe anymore,” Rodriguez said.