Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) Advice on How to Behave During an Armed Robbery/Mugging

Assistant Chief, Patrol Services Bureau, Dianne Groomes

Yesterday we had a lengthy discussion about an armed mugging in Columbia Heights. At that time some people were pontificating about how one ought to behave when facing an armed mugger. Should you fight? Should you run? Should you comply? Should you do something else?

DC is a city filled with very smart residents and many of us consider ourselves experts in a variety of subject matter. As a result we often have really interesting discussions on a wide range of topics. I love the seriousness in which we debate all sorts of subjects – even where to find the best nachos.

However, when it comes to providing advice on how to react to a mugger with a gun in your face – well that’s where I get a bit uncomfortable with self proclaimed experts (myself included) giving advice. Now it is true that there are many in law enforcement circles who read this blog – however we can not tell who the bonafide law enforcement officers are based on a username alone. Actions taken during an armed robbery/mugging may have life or death results. So I started to get a bit uncomfortable with some advice being given. At that point I decided to ask the advice of MPD Assistant Chief, Patrol Services Bureau, Dianne Groomes who has been with MPD for over 20 years.

I asked her a very simple question – how would she advise we behave during an incident like the armed mugging we discussed yesterday? Chief Groomes responded via email:

The best advice is to follow the commands of the robber … we have seen too many times where the victim may refuse or try to fight back but they end up getting pistolwhipped or shot …. I do suggest that one who is approached and asked for phone or wallet – throw it away from your body so you have a chance to be removed from the armed suspects… I would walk away from area away from them as they pick up property.

We are having major robberies where they just jump you or surround you and do the pat down – do not fight back and the best thing is to get the best description so we can end up making an arrest if we stop someone – we find that a vast majority of our victims cannot identify even if we stop individuals that either match the lookout or seen fleeing…. but I do understand it is traumatizing when gun put into your face – the victims always remember the gun…

Preventative measures are what are being listed on our listservs and what others state, be aware of your surroundings, try not to walk in the alleys, if intoxicated take a cab or metro instead of walking around (we have alot of robberies on sidestreets by the clubzones), give up your property, or if you have wallet don’t keep your major credit cards etc in it (or all stuff in wallet) put in different areas – or if you are just walking dog etc don’t carry such… electronics such as cellphones, ipods are items that are being targeted…

This is the advice that I will follow.

Ed. Note: I have many friends and acquaintances who live in Columbia Heights and other neighborhoods where crimes are regularly reported here. Not one of them has been a victim of a violent crime nor mugged at gunpoint (knock wood). Street crime is certainly a real threat but it should be kept in perspective. Definitely be smart and follow the advice of Chief Groomes. But please keep in mind, while street smarts are important, there is no need to constantly be in fear every time you leave the house either. Sometimes the MPD alerts and posts here make it seem like there is nothing but violence and crime in some neighborhoods. Fortunately that is far from the reality of everyday life. It is possible for us to discuss disturbing incidents and hopefully become more aware of our surroundings and at the same time continue to enjoy the beautiful life.

91 Comment

  • Good call, PoP. This is really good to know about. Actually, I was nearly mugged last week and this has been on my mind.

    I’ll def second that the best way to fight back is to get the dude’s description, so the cops can do their job — or you can identify the perp later.

    The officer in my case followed up this week, and asked me to immediately call 911 if I ever spotted the guy again. If someone commits a crime against you, there’s something called a “second sighting” law (911 operators will know what that is), and cops will come over and arrest the perp on the spot. Just remember to stay a safe distance away while calling 911.

  • I utilize a “mugger wallet” whenever I go out walking around the neighborhood so that if confronted I would give it up without hesitation. In it is about $60 in cash, and a bunch of old, expired voter ID cards, library card, CVS card, old insurance card, but NO license or credit cards. If I need ID to buy alcohol or drive, I carry my license in my front pocket in the hopes it won’t be taken. I take my “real” wallet to work and other downtown destinations with little chance of robbery.

    • Huge fan of the mugger wallet. Been doing that for years. Haven’t been mugged yet but I feel better knowing that I have something to give any potential mugger that won’t necessitate a trip to the DMV or frantic calls to credit card companies.

    • $60 seems like a lot for a mugger wallet. I’d put like $10 in singles in mine.

      • I read somewhere awhile back that around $40-50 is enough to satisfy the average mugger, so accounting for inflation, I figure $60 without any credit cards will keep them from getting angry and shooting me.

        • I am going to start doing this THIS weekend. Great idea and I agree with you – the $60 bucks is a small price to pay rather than wishing you had a few more dollars in there after the incident happened.

          • Cool idea, but still super depressing that you have to employ this tactic. Glad I don’t live near you guys, haha!

    • I have a Mugger Purse! Or, at least, a cheap purse I carry while keeping wallet, phone, and keys on my person. In the event of a mugging, I will just hurl it in another direction.

    • Great idea. With women, do muggers usually want the whole purse/bag or are they satisfied with just a wallet? Inpired by your suggestion, I’d like to create a decoy wallet that stay in my purse along with the real one.

  • Glad to see you are on board PoP. Drop your stuff and get out of there! (I personally would not be walking)

    You are right to leave the advice to the experts in this case. You can’t control who posts comments, but when the blog owner starts posting his own advice it can be a slippery slope.

    • Seems PoP was fairly close to the mark… the different ideas were comply or fight back through kabuke dance.

      Mizer, what law enforcement do you work for?

    • I feel like the blog owner’s opinion ought to be weighed the same as anyone else who comments here. We’re all just a bunch of anonymous strangers with opinions, even PoP.

      I know, I know, some of you know him personally… and some of you use your real names or some identifiable link in your ‘name’. I’m not talking about you guys, so save your flames. I’m talking about the vast majority.

      My point is: People who weigh PoP’s advice as somehow more important because “ooh, gosh, well he writes this blog n’ all” might want to reevaluate how they shape their opinions and who has sway over how they live their lives.

      Having said all that, I do agree with PoP (not trying to pick on him).

      • “I feel like the blog owner’s opinion ought to be weighed the same as anyone else who comments here.”

        I totally agree, but don’t believe that it happens. I think some readers will lend more “authority” to his opinion than those of anonymous posters.

        • Agree.

          • it is HIS damn blog. and people read it because they probably tend to agree with his views. it’s completely useless to have an argument about this, thinking you can influence who people listen to. guess what, people on blogs come here to state their opinions and they will agree with posts that justify their world view and reject the ones that don’t. period. the internet isn’t a place where people go to “listen” and have meaningful discourse.

          • I’m not trying to influence who people listen to. I’m saying that if they give more weight to PoP’s opinions just because he has a blog, they should reevaluate how they form their opinions. And from what I’ve seen people here DO take his word for gospel from time to time.

            If you happen to agree with PoP (as I do on this issue), then more power to you. Or not. I don’t care.

            Personally, I don’t think people come here because they agree with him or share his personal beliefs. My guess is they come to read about events/developments in their neighborhood (like I do).

            I also think that the internet *can* be a place where people come to have meaningful, reasonable discourse. The fact that it rarely happens here is really because of people who share your view. They come to throw bombs and hurl vitriol from behind a fake ID.

          • Prince Of Petworth

            “meaningful, reasonable discourse” occurs here everyday. It is happening right now…

          • you guys speculate a lot. who exactly is giving more weight to PoPs opinion on something he hasn’t dealt with just because he has a blog?
            you’re whining about a situation that may not even exist.

        • @PoP: ““meaningful, reasonable discourse” occurs here everyday. It is happening right now…”

          You’re right (although I didn’t say ‘never’). I’ll roll that comment back a bit. But you’d have to agree that it doesn’t take long for many discussions to devolve into name-calling, anger and ridicule.

          I mean, how many times have we witnessed somebody asking for the most benign advice (where to buy sod, for example) only to get ripped to shreds? It happens a lot, which is why I often have to take breaks from this blog.

          Not to mention the dismissing of commenters’ meaning, rational discourse as “whining” or worse (see Anonymous 10:17, above)

          • Those are my favorite (actually most frustrating). PoP posts an innocent question about something like sod and instead of someone answering the question or not saying anything at all, they talk about how using sod is evil and irresponsible.

            Well, that wasnt the question, now was it? Answer the question or shut up. If the asker cared what you thought about the merits of using sod, that would have been the question instead.

  • If I’m ever jumped or “surrounded and patted down” per Chief Groomes’s description, I’d probably just throw in the towel on living in gentrifying DC. To pay the highest local taxes in the country for the priviledge of being terrorized in public is absurd.

    • “The highest local taxes in the country” thing is a canard, given that you pay the lowest “state” taxes in the country (zero). Not that they’re low, by any means.

      If you don’t already accept the fact that you have a small but statistically significant chance of being mugged — which increases markedly the further north and east of Dupont Circle you live and the more likely you are to enjoy the increasingly varied nightlife offerings in these northern, eastern neighborhoods — you should consider throwing in the towel now.

      Cost of doing business. Where would Texas be if the injuns scared the settlers off.

      Besides. It’s not fun, but its not exactly being “terrorized”. Usually.

      • “Where would Texas be if the injuns scared the settlers off.”

        It would still belong to its original inhabitants and we wouldn’t have had to endure 8 years of W. 🙂

        Your point is taken, however.

      • I own a house in north Columbia Heights and I have a wife and child. For 2010, we paid the goverment of DC income and property taxes in excess of $25K. If it costs more than that to “do business” (i.e., enjoy our neighborhood without become the victims of violent criminals), we’ll probably just wind up taking our “business” elsewhere.

        • I’m not unsympathetic, having raised two kids starting on 13th and T in 1992 — before the metro stop opened.

          But I am unsure what you thought you were getting into. This city is by no means “safe” by the standards most people have adopted, and has not been for 40 years. Nor is it cheap.

          Everyone has their own cost-benefit analysis (don’t forget the schools).

          But complaining about paying $25,000 a year to be terrorized when you made your own choice is disingenuous.

          • We’ve lived in DC for the last 12 years. We’ve put ourselves through grad school here. We know exactly what it’s like. My point is that if I or my family is ever the victim of a violent crime, my instinct will be to give up on DC because we pay too much to the city in taxes for us to go unprotected.

          • @2b3s:

            So you will continue to live here in the hopes that some random, but statistically unlikely thing won’t happen to you. But if that statistically unlikely thing *does* happen to you, you’re going to move. Probably to somewhere in the suburbs–where you’re even more likely to be killed or injured in a traffic accident.

            Got it.

          • No, not to the burbs. Just to a part of DC where my family and I will be less likely that we are in north Columbia Heights to be the victims of violent criminals.

        • Then you make a lot of money and have an expensive house.

          You would be paying a lot no matter where you live in the area.

          • I think paying a lot in taxes is perfectly okay so long as it buys you, among other comforts of civilization, the freedom to enjoy your neighborhood without having to risk becoming a victim of violent crime.

    • If you own a car and a house your taxes are probably lower in DC than any surrounding jurisdiction. If you dont own a house or a car, you still may have a lower cost of living in DC, depending on your rent/cost of commuting + taxes.

      • Coincidentally, the Washington Examiner Had an article today comparing the tax burden in general local jurisdictions. we are higher than Virginia and lower than PG< about the same as Monkey County. I stand corrected: our local income tax is a "State" tax according to the esteemed journalists of the best free paper the Green Line offers.

        • That energy tax seems bogus. I have lived in DC, MD, and VA and none of those numbers seem near the numbers i paid.

          As far as i know, most groceries are tax free in DC but restaurants are taxed at 10%. In Arlington and Alexandria, restaurants are at 9.5% (I believe).

          I think they’re also confusing utilities’ fees for taxes in some instances.

          I did my own, similar analysis, of my own situation several times in the past, most recently this past January.

          I found that in my situation, I would be paying less taxes in DC than in VA or MD.

  • Thats a hot cop 🙂

  • can we start talking about how to PREVENT muggings, robberies, and beatings? this would be much more useful. I get the feeling some people think that getting mugged is inevitable in a city, but I don’t believe it is.

    • Lest I be misunderstood I agree with this. My comments above should not be construed as “accept the inevitable.” More “don’t kid yourself.”

    • read “the gift of fear” and do what your gut tells you.

  • The post is titled “advice on how to behave during an armed robbery/mugging” but it only talks about how the victim is supposed to behave. Any advice on how to conduct oneself for the robber/mugger?

  • Let’s be real here… taking a cab when intoxicated is NOT good advice, particularly if you’re alone and female.

    • I’ve heard of that being an occasional issue in other cities. Is that true in DC?

    • please explain.

      • I have a few horror stories, and so do many (maybe even most) other women I know that take cabs. Think about it; you’re in a car with a strange man who has the power to drive you off to wherever he pleases.

        Also, many of DC’s cab drivers come from cultures that have very little respect for women– where it’s believed that a woman who’s alone late at night deserves to have horrible things happen to her. Having one of these “morally corrupt” women in a moving vehicle with him gives the cab driver the perfect opportunity to act upon that belief. And so it hpapens with alarming frequency.

        • What female doesn’t have a scary cabbie story?

          I know many who do.

          • I don’t. and I take cabs quite frequently and am generally drunk 1/2 the time I do.

          • anonymous: Ok, so if we go by your experience alone we can infer that there’s still a 49.99% chance it can happen.

          • my experience? wouldn’t it be the person saying not to take a cab whilst drunk? I’m the one saying that I’ve never experienced or heard of this happening. I still absolutely believe this person who has heard “horror stories”, but that’s just a weird comment to say that 100% of the time I’m in a cab drunk something bad will happen. I’d say there’s more like a 0.05% chance it would happen

    • my guess is that the statistical probability of the cab driver robbing or raping you is infinitely smaller than the probability that someone on the street would rob or rape you. how about, don’t be a sloppy drunk?

      • +1. If your only options after a night out are walk home alone late at night drunk or climb into a stranger’s cab alone and drunk late at night, then maybe try to control how much you drink.

        Adults do this. If I know I have to drive home, I don’t get sloshed.

        And yes, I know women should have the right to walk wherever, whenever and as drunk as they want, but that isn’t reality. Doing so is turning yourself into a target.

        • Funny how it’s always men criticizing the victims in these scenarios. I suppose you think wearing a skirt makes her a target as well?

          • You would suppose wrongly.
            I’m not trying to criticize the victims herer. I’m saying be wise. That goes for men AND women. Please don’t put words in my mouth (keyboard).

            Would you disagree that is wiser to stay sober-ish and alert than to get hammered and stumble out of the bar trying to figure the best way home? Which one of those scenarios puts you more at risk?

            It’s not about blame. It’s about making wise decisions.

          • Really, women should just stay at home unless they’re with a chaperone.

          • Funny how its always women who think that strange foreign working class dark skinned men are going to rape them when they’re drunk.

            These women who think this can a.) not get in a situation where they feel like this and/or b.) not get so drunk that they get into a situation where they feel like this.

            That is what I believe Mr. TSM is saying.

          • I just make sure to not put myself in situations where I might have to walk or take a cab alone after 10pm or so.

          • @c. (11:19am):
            “I just make sure to not put myself in situations where I might have to walk or take a cab alone after 10pm or so.”

            That is basically all I said and I was immediately attacked as being a chauvinist pig who thinks anyone who dares to where a skirt deserves some kind of assault. By you, in fact. (See your post at 10:26am).

            I added the part about controlling how much you drink, but that’s certainly reasonable and NOT beyond the scope of general (non-chauvinistic) advice.

          • Well, we’re talking about different things here. You’re talking about women getting trashed and I’m talking about women being out alone at night.

          • “I’m talking about women being out alone at night.”

            And do you mean that women being out alone late at night (merely taking out the garbage, for example) makes them vulnerable and they should be careful? Because that’s what I’m saying. But because I’m a man, I got attacked for it. Coming from a woman, it’s accepted as good advice.

            And the original context of this conversation was about taking a cab while intoxicated not being good advice for a woman alone (see 9:56 AM | Anonymous, above). That’s why I’m taking about getting drunk and what may or may not be a wise decision.

          • TSM> Maybe you should just say, “I will help protect a woman if I see something lewd or dangerous.”

            Let’s call it a day.

          • @bloom:
            I’m all for that.

      • What a horrible thing to say. Having been sexually assaulted by a cab driver while sober, I find your assumptions very chauvinistic and hurtful.

        My advice: If you must take a cab by yourself, drunk or not, write down the driver’s information the moment you get in the cab. Make sure he sees you doing it so he’s less likely to try something. Secure this inofrmation somewhere on you, like in a pocket, because you’re likely to get separated from your purse in a scuffle. Finally don’t give the driver your address; ask him drop you off a few blocks away. That way, if the worst happens and you have to report him, it will be harder for him to come after you in a revenge scenario.

        • My jerky cabbie was jerking off and looking at me in the rear view on a Saturday morning, driving me to the museum. No one was drunk.

          But what really makes me want to barf is men who just lack the imagination to get what others different from them (women) might experience.

        • I’m very, very sorry that happened to you. Truly. It hurts my heart to think about it.

          But please don’t misunderstand me. All I mean is that (for men and women) is generally not wise to put yourself in a situation where you are out of control and at risk. And getting very drunk and walking home or getting into a strange cab puts one (whichever gender) at risk.

          Have a safe way home (with friends, etc) if you want to party to the point where you’re not thinking clearly.

          • Fair enough, but this comment rubbed me the wrong way:

            “Adults do this. If I know I have to drive home, I don’t get sloshed.”

            How lucky you are to be a man and have the option of driving home after a drink or two. A small woman like I would be over the limit (or dangerously close) after a drink, so it’s simply not an option.

            And I disagree that it has less do with being sloshed and more to do with more criminal acitivity in general happening late at night. I won’t even go out to walk the dogs or take out the trash after a certain hour because there are fewer people around and there’s a good chance those that are out are up to no good.

          • OK. Sorry, that was a bit snarky. But it’s not untrue. Everyone has a limit and it’s important to know where one’s personal limit is if you want to stay safe (whether driving, walking or cabbing).

            My wife can’t drink much either. She spaces her drinks out with water and time. Or doesn’t drink at all. This is what I’m talking about.

          • next time your sister, girlfriend, wife, or mother is attacked, be sure to reprimand her for being “out of control and at risk”. that’ll teach her.

          • Honestly? A lot of women are “out of control” the second you’re in a cab, drunk or sober. You may have somewhat less control drunk but frankly, even sober, you’re still at the mercy of some guy that you don’t know, that can take you just about anywhere, and has a fair shot of overpowering you pretty easily. The only difference if it’s late or early are the likely amount of witnesses.

            We should be holding cab drivers responsible for their actions, not telling women not to take cabs. I hope those of you that have had scary cabbies have reported them to the appropriate authorities.

  • I’m guessing the “what should I do?” begets “do what they say” because that’s the easiest lowest common denominator way to respond and also least likely to provide an additional provocation. it’s probably too difficult to ask somebody to immediately determine their circumstances/surroundings to judge the proper response if they aren’t used to being robbed/gun stuck in their face on a regular basis.

    in any event, in our culture we attach such a high (ridiculously so) value upon private property and “what’s mine is mine.” yet, rarely is what’s on you worth even the risk that you place yourself in further physical harm. nobody wants to be mugged; it’s traumatizing, gives rise to feelings of helplessness… still, it’s not your fault. what are we talking about, a few hundred dollars (at most), a cell phone, some credit cards, and ID. a headache, sure, but not at all worth the alternative consequences.

  • One piece of advice I’ve read (maybe on PoP? or a DC listserv) is that muggers sometimes change clothes or at least remove their jackets immediately after they mug someone. That way the description doesn’t match when the cops go looking for them. However, muggers rarely change their _shoes_, so if you have the presence of mind, remember their kicks. I haven’t been mugged, but if I am, I’d hate for the headline to read “Dumb Guy Killed for Not Giving Up His Old iPhone.”

  • this is the saddest group of posts ever. As much as I agree that the best thing to do is just give up your stuff, I am sickened that we are to be prepared to be mugged. Carry extra cash to give away to some jv low lifes. The assistant chief should be more focussed on protecting the innocent, and not telling them how to protect themselves. I’m sick of seeing two cops in cars watching movies on their computer, sitting in allys talking on cell phones. Get on a bike ride around have some presence.

    Don’t you think if we all roll over and go belly up, here take my cash. These muggings will just increase because it will be so easy. The city may be changing and its the responsiblity of the police to protect those who live here, no matter who they are. It is the city, stuff happens but we shouldn’t all be running around with our tail inbetween our legs

  • i reacted poorly and got away with it a few years ago. someone came running up from behind me, hit me hard in the head and grabbed my purse. a police officer later told me that the mugger’s mistake was to hit me because that got my fight up rather than my flight instinct, and i wouldn’t give the purse over. i kicked and yelled until he ran away but i was lucky as hell that he didn’t have a weapon.

    it’s stupid, but as a mammal if someone hits me it’s hard not to hit back.

    so muggers, please don’t hit first. make everyone’s lives easier. i’m happy to comply if you don’t raise my ire.

  • The BEST advice – shoot first.

    Snark aside, the real answer is better policing would prevent this type of criminal activity.

    • I’m not sure better policing is the answer. I bet the muggers have a rap sheet a mile long. The police keep catching them, the judicial system lets them go.
      Hell, if I were a cop busting the same people over and over again, I’d probably sit in the car watching movies too. What’s the point?

  • Just want to drop another word of advice here not directly related to mugging – if someone holds a gun on you and tells you to go into an alley or get into a car, DO NOT COMPLY. Throw a fake wallet if you have one, run into the street and try to get away. Better to get shot and maybe survive to get to a hospital than be taken away nobody knows where so the perp can do whatever they want.

    • It would be interesting to get the official response from MPD on this issue, too? I wonder what their view is on the risks of being kidnapped vs running away when the threat is issued.

      PoP, can you get their answer on this too?

      • I think MPD would want to avoid kidnappings as well because they consume far more police resources.

        • Probably want to avoid fleeing citizens getting shot in the back too.

          Which is why I wanted to hear their expert assessment of the risk. Not your read on what they “probably” think. Not that I think you’re wrong, but I’d like to hear it from the pros.

  • Good follow up post after the discussion yesterday and today’s first post. Nice work, PoP.

    Also nice use of the word “pontificating”, +1000 bonus points.

  • What I meant was (in response to the MPD advice) if you do find yourself intoxicated getting in a cab is unwise adivce. Staying at a friend’s place or calling someone to pick you up, taking the metro, walking down well-lit streets, and probably even taking the bus are all safer solutions.

    There’s this great organization called Right Rides that provides safe cab rides to people in NYC. If you feel as strongly about this cause as I do, I urge you to donate to bring this service to DC:

  • Chronic repeat offenders are a big problem, as someone mentioned above. One of the most effective thing you can do as a private citizen is write community impact statements to the sentencing judge. You can get information on who and when by subscribing to your local MPD listserv.


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