Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

In Philly, most armed robbers remain beyond the long arm of the law

In Philadelphia, unsolved armed robberies are the norm, not the exception. Just 25 percent of robberies are solved each year, leaving victims with no closure or justice.

Glenn Hudson, 61, is recovering at his North Philadelphia home after he was shot in the jaw by a robber who took $20 on Jan. 16, 2019. The gunman and his four accomplices remain at large.
Glenn Hudson, 61, is recovering at his North Philadelphia home after he was shot in the jaw by a robber who took $20 on Jan. 16, 2019. The gunman and his four accomplices remain at large.Read moreMensah M. Dean / Staff

Life has not been easy for Glenn Hudson, with diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease that required surgery in 2006. Last month Hudson, 61, was hit with yet another challenge — a bullet to the left jaw.

Hudson, who relies on disability benefits, had just left his North Philadelphia home Jan. 16 to pick up dinner at a nearby restaurant when five young men walking in the opposite direction announced a stickup, searched his pockets, and stole $20.

Four of the thieves began walking away. But one baby-faced teenager lingered, pointed a gun — and pulled the trigger from point-blank range.

Now, as he recovers from the small-caliber bullet wound to his jaw, Hudson is wondering whether the gunman and his accomplices will ever be caught. He has good reason to wonder: According to Philadelphia Police Department statistics, arrests were made in slightly less than 25 percent of all armed robberies over the last five years, with the solve rate essentially the same each year.

Philadelphia police are not alone among urban police departments in failing to solve most armed robberies. Atlanta police reported that just 7.7 percent of armed robberies resulted in arrests in 2017, while Houston police said 26 percent resulted in arrests in 2017. Nationally, the 2017 arrest rate for robberies was 29.7 percent, according to the FBI.

Still, it’s a jarring statistic even to experts.

”If you stopped the average person on the street and told them if they were robbed that there was a three-quarters of a chance that whoever did it wouldn’t be apprehended, I think that would stop them in their tracks," said Eric Piza, assistant professor of criminal justice at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.

Armed robberies are harder to solve than homicides, Piza said, because police departments use more personnel and resources tracking killers than robbers, and because killers often know their victims, while armed robbers typically target strangers. Still, he said as much effort should be put into investigating crime as in preventing it.

“Generally speaking, while American policing over the last couple of years has gotten pretty good at understanding how to prevent crime in the first place, the investigation of crime is something that maybe we need to pay more attention to,” Piza said.

Capt. Sekou Kinebrew, the Philadelphia Police Department spokesperson, declined to be interviewed but said in writing that solving robberies is a departmental priority.

“Preventing, responding to, and investigating violent crime remains one of our core objectives," he wrote. “Each of these aspects has unique challenges.”

The department uses various approaches to combat gun violence, according to its Violent Crime Response strategy. These include so-called Hot-Spot patrols in more violence-prone districts; foot patrols in high-crime areas; creation last year of a Gun Violence Reduction Task Force to focus on repeat firearm offenders; creation in 2017 of the Intelligence Bureau to get real-time information to officers quicker; and working on task forces with the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the U.S. Marshals Service.

But the fallout on the streets from the lack of arrests leads not just to more robberies but sometimes to murder. In Philadelphia, the victims have included police officers slain by serial robbers who were not caught until after they became cop killers.

In late 2014 and early 2015, brothers Ramone Williams and Carlton Hipps blazed a path of terror through North Philadelphia, robbing nine stores before they gunned down Officer Robert Wilson inside a GameStop store at 2101 W. Lehigh Ave. in Swampoodle.

In 2011, Chancier McFarland participated in two armed robberies before he and an accomplice murdered off-duty Officer Moses Walker during an attempted robbery in August 2012.

In 2007, John Jordan Lewis held up five pizza and doughnut shops in the weeks before he fatally shot Officer Charles “Chuck” Cassidy while robbing a Dunkin’ Donuts on North Broad Street.

Most of the nonfatal armed robberies committed by the eventual cop killers were filmed by surveillance cameras. Kinebrew said that such footage “is a valuable investigative tool” but not “a singular solution” to solving cases.

“The existence of surveillance footage does not necessarily result in a rapid identification of suspects," he said. “The identification occurs when we can apply a name to the face on the video. That requires further investigative steps, as well as assistance from the community and other stakeholders.”

‘I saw my whole life disappear’

Hudson still has the bullet in his jaw because doctors said it’s too risky to remove until scar tissue has formed. His jaw is bandaged, and he still wears the hospital identification bracelet from the night he was shot — to remind him, he said, of his gratitude that he survived. But the memory of the robbery won’t fade anytime soon.

“I have never in my life seen anything like that. I just saw my whole life disappear. As I was going down, I said to myself, ‘This is it,’ ” he said.

The father of nine said he is grateful to the first Philadelphia police officer who arrived within a minute of his 911 call and whisked him to Temple University Hospital.

But since then he’s been consumed with frustration and fear that the robbers, whose assault was captured on videotape, have not been caught. He gave a statement to an officer but said he has not heard from any detectives, as the officer said he would.

“By them not coming out here to at least let me know if they found out anything, I got real depressed about that," Hudson said during an interview at his home, his eyes brimming with tears. "When something of this magnitude happens to a person, you would figure they would come out and follow this up. Tell me something.”

The video of Hudson being robbed and shot at 8:35 p.m. in the 2100 block of West Cambria Street is posted on the Police Department’s YouTube channel.

Police said the shooter is thin, 5-foot-8, about 18 years old, has a light complexion, and wore a dark, puffy jacket and light-colored jeans ripped in the front. He was armed with a dark revolver. The four other suspects are described as about 18 years old, wearing dark clothing. All five are African American.

Zivka “Ziza” Djordjevich can relate. In August 2015, she was shot in the throat by one of two robbers who stormed into her Best Cake Kosher Bakery in Overbrook Park before it opened for the day.

They rummaged for money before one shouted, “Just shoot the bitch!” she said in an interview. A bullet ripped through Djordjevich’s throat, almost causing her to drown in her own blood, she said.

At the hospital a detective showed her hundreds of pictures of suspects, but she didn’t spot her attackers. Almost 3½ years later, no one has been arrested.

“I don’t know. It’s too much crime,” Djordjevich, 60, said reflectively, behind the counter of her bakery, where she returned to work four months after being shot.

Djordjevich has installed surveillance cameras in her bakery and has added a handgun to her tools of trade while working. She said other nearby businesses have been held up since the robbery by still-elusive armed bandits.

“The 7-Eleven twice, Popeyes, MetroPCS once, Stacey’s Pizza,” said Djordjevich, who has owned her bakery on Haverford Avenue near City Avenue for 16 years.

“I talked to one lady and she said to me, ‘You know, I’ve been robbed.’ I said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding. What did you do?’ She said, ‘I just opened the register and I ran.’ I said, ‘Good for you.’ ”

Unsolved robberies have spurred some to take action on their own. Pennsylvania State Rep. Danilo Burgos is among them. In 1998, still grieving over the murder of his uncle, Jose Martinez, during a 1994 robbery of Martinez’s North Philadelphia grocery store, Burgos joined with other small-business owners to found the Dominican Grocers Association of Philadelphia.

The association, designed to improve communication among police, agencies, and store owners — many who speak English as a second language — has grown to more than 385 stores, said Burgos, a Democrat elected last year to represent the 197th District in Hunting Park.

“Criminals are becoming more brazen. The cameras are a deterrent, but they obviously are not stopping them," he said. “Unfortunately, business owners still feel like they have a target on them from robbers.”