By Cody Mello-Klein | [email protected]
The Alexandria Police Department arrested Tavon Marquis Lanier, 19, of Alexandria, on Sunday as a suspect in the Sept. 30 homicide of Alexandria resident John Pope, 57, according to a news release.
APD officers responded to a report of a possible shooting in the 5900 block of Quanrell Avenue, a residential area on the West End, at about 3:50 p.m. on Sept. 30. After arriving on the scene, officers found Pope suffering from an injury to his upper body, according to the release. Pope was transported to a local hospital, where he died.
The incident was the most recent in a string of firearm-related incidents in the city. Between January and September 2020, there were 33 incidents; in 2019, there were 37 total shots fired incidents, according to a news release.
While there were about the same number of incidents in the first nine months of 2019 and 2020, a large portion of the 2020 incidents have occurred in the past couple of months. There were 16 shots fired incidents in August and September 2020, compared to eight incidents in the same time period in 2019, according to a news release.
While APD is unable to provide exact details on active investigations, officers are probing the recent incidents and have made arrests and recovered weapons, drugs and other evidence in several cases, APD Chief Michael Brown said. Officers also executed a search warrant in Old Town on Oct. 1 in connection with one of the incidents.
“It’s a tough case to work, but [investigators] have already made arrests, they’ve seized weapons, they’ve seized other evidence and they’re very aggressively pursuing this,” Brown said.
Investigators have been working to determine whether any of the incidents are connected, given the frequency with which they occurred. Of the 16 incidents that occurred over the past two months, investigators have determined that at least seven were not connected to one another, according to the release.
Of those seven cases, two were unrelated incidents involving neighbors, one was a domestic dispute, one was an accidental self-inflicted injury, one was a robbery, one involved the arrest of a person who fired shots with no victims and one was the Sept. 30 homicide of Pope.
Investigators are still working to determine if there are any connections between the other nine cases, one of which involved a non-life-threatening injury, according to the release.
Brown was unable to comment on the motivations behind the shots fired incidents, as they are ongoing investigations.
The recent spate of shots fired incidents have hit some areas of the city more than others. Five of those nine cases occurred in Old Town, with similar reported incidents occurring over the summer. In response, APD has increased patrols in specific areas of the city.
“We have officers out not only on regular patrol that are working those areas but we have specific officers working those little micro areas in the city … so that we can reduce the incidents of shots fired,” Brown said.
Although investigators are working these cases, Brown appealed to residents for information. Residents with information about any of these incidents are encouraged to contact Detective John Brattelli at 703-746-6699.
APD also released its Part I crime data to date for 2020 on Oct. 2, revealing a few notable trends in local crime this year.
Part I crimes include crimes against people, such as homicide, robbery and larceny, which means the recent increase in shots fired incidents is not represented in this data “because the incidents are typically non-contact offenses or destruction of property incidents,” according to an APD news release.
There have been 2,347 Part I crimes committed in the city between January and September 2020, compared to the 1,981 Part I crimes committed in that same time frame in 2019. That’s an increase of 366, or 18.5%, Part I crimes compared to last year. Three specific categories – larceny, burglary and auto theft – account for most of the additional crimes, Brown said.
The number of larceny offenses rose from 1,483 cases in 2019 to 1,769 cases in 2020. However, the increase could be a result of retail businesses reporting more incidents in general, not necessarily facing more shoplifters, according to the release.
The surge in stolen vehicles, from 177 offenses in 2019 to 261 in 2020, is largely attributed to people leaving their cars unlocked or unattended for longer periods of time while at home during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March, according to the release.
“We saw a dramatic increase of larcenies from vehicles and cars being stolen about the same time we were going into lockdown during the pandemic,” Brown said. “That’s when it started to spike, largely because people were parking their cars and leaving them unattended or not looking at them because they had nowhere else to go for long periods of time.”
APD noted that most of these cases have involved unlocked vehicles, not broken windows, according to the release.
Burglaries also increased by 9%, from 84 cases in 2019 to 91 cases in 2020. Notably, the number of commercial burglaries increased by 13 year to year, while the number of residential burglaries decreased by 13 year to year.
“A good deal of the drivers for those were commercial burglaries that took place during the shutdown and [when] businesses were closed,” Brown said.
Most other Part I crimes have stayed steady or decreased slightly between 2019 and 2020.
There have been two homicides this year – the Sept. 30 murder of Pope and the July 29 homicide of Karla Dominguez. In 2019, one homicide occurred in the same timespan.
Aggravated assault offenses are down slightly so far this year: There have been 150 cases as of September compared to the 154 that had occurred by September 2019.
The number of reported rapes decreased from 17 in 2019 to eight as of September 2020. However, APD noted that “some rapes may not have been reported if the victims did not feel comfortable making the reports while having to stay in the homes where the rapes occurred,” according to the release.
Brown could not say with certainty that the decrease is solely due to lockdown conditions in some households. However, he said that the potential for conditions where reporting a rape or assault is difficult remains a concern.
“I can’t say specifically that that’s directly related to the pandemic, but that is certainly a concern not only for us but in other police agencies across the country,” Brown said.
Confidential support is available 24/7 for residents at the city’s sexual assault hotline, 703-683-7273, or the National Sexual Assault Online Hotline: https://bit.ly/2GHDbjO. People in immediate danger should call or text 911.