Philadelphia police have arrested at least one person suspected of participating in a string of armed robberies in Center City.
Police said the sequence that led to the arrest began around 6:15 p.m. Wednesday, when two men got out of a Subaru on the 1300 block of South 19th Street, then stole a silver Fossil watch and Samsung cellphone from a man and woman who had been unloading furniture into their garage.
About an hour later, police said, officers stopped three men on the 1700 block of Locust Street because they were driving a Lincoln MKZ that matched one used in another robbery last week. In that case, two men got out of the car at 200 Mozart Place and stole someone’s Rolex watch at gunpoint.
After the car stop on Locust Street, police said, the victims from the 19th Street robbery were brought to the scene and identified the men in the car as their assailants. Police said it was not clear when the suspects might have switched from the Subaru to the Lincoln; the Subaru has not yet been found.
Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said Thursday morning that “at least one of these individuals was also involved in at least one of many similar gunpoint robberies that have occurred over the last several weeks in Center City.” She did not identify any of the suspects, and police did not announce charges. They said only that two of the men arrested Wednesday were 19 years old, and the other was 22 years old.
Chief Inspector Frank Vanore called the arrests a “significant break” in an ongoing investigation into a series of armed robberies. Detectives believe there could be links between a dozen cases in Center City dating back to September, including what Vanore said was the gunpoint robbery over the weekend of a watch from a groomsman at an Old City wedding.
In many of the cases, Vanore said, the robbers appear to have targeted people for personal items such as expensive jewelry or watches. He said the robberies often appear to involve two or three suspects, who appeared “very covered up” in surveillance videos, typically wearing hooded jackets and COVID masks.
Deputy Commissioner Joel Dales said the department had assigned more patrol officers to Center City in response to robberies, and that the FBI was assisting as well. He did not offer specifics about either initiative. Dales said police have spoken with the business community about robberies, and he urged anyone who might encounter a robber to give them what they want.
“I don’t want anyone resisting or fighting the offenders over replaceable items,” Dales said.
Vanore said no one had been shot in any of the Center City robberies being investigated by detectives.
Police statistics show there have been 25 armed robberies in Center City in December, the most for that area in any month in 2021. Still, such crimes are hardly limited to Center City.
There have been more than 2,400 gunpoint robberies citywide this year — an average of more than 40 per week — which is 27% more than through the same date last year, police statistics show. Robberies without a gun, meanwhile, have fallen by about 13%.
The vast majority of armed robberies, about 94%, have occurred outside Center City, according to an Inquirer analysis of police statistics. About 20% of this year’s gunpoint robberies have happened in police districts covering Kensington, Fairhill, and North Philadelphia. Another 21% have occurred in districts covering West and Southwest Philadelphia.
On Tuesday, police announced the arrest of two men accused of committing 13 armed robberies at Latino-owned businesses around Feltonville’s Wyoming Avenue business corridor. Authorities credited business owners and neighbors with working together and calling in tips that helped officers identify the suspects, Omar White-Davis, 28, and Acia Moore, 20.
District Attorney Larry Krasner addressed the topic at a Monday news conference, saying: “For anybody who has the idea that robbery is an option, I want you to understand that we have some jail cells for you, and if we get you, we’re going to be doing everything we can, because this is extremely serious.”
Staff writer Mensah M. Dean contributed to this article.