NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—City police are investigating at least two armed robberies on the same block of Hamilton Street, as several alarming crime trends continue to affect the neighborhood near Rutgers University.
The two recent armed robberies, one at a residence and the other in a convenience store, come on the heels of several similar incidents in the neighborhood over the past several months, and new data that shows a spike in armed robberies in the Hub City.
On February 22, at about 10pm, three masked men forced their way into a home after a woman answered the door, holding her at gunpoint and taking cell phones and jewelry.
The woman told police that her roommates deal marijuana and that they leapt from windows when they saw the suspects coming.
"NBPD located marijuana on scene and the victim alleged that her house was targeted because her roommates were dealing marijuana from the residence," reads a university crime alert sent out the Rutgers community.
""The female occupant indicated that her roommates jumped out of a window when they saw the suspects coming. She feels the suspects were targeting her roommates because they frequently dealt marijuana from that residence."
The woman's roommates lost more than just the jewelry and cell phones taken by the robbers. Police charged two of them with drug offenses (22-year-old Cesar Terreros-Andreade and 18-year-old Edward Hernandez) and a third with obstruction (23-year-old William Lawrence), after locating them outside a nearby pizza shop, likely Ta-ta's.
The woman described the suspects as one African-American male wearing a tan vest and boots; and two Hispanic males, both wearing black hooded sweatshirts.
"This investigation is ongoing as detectives try to identify the home invasion suspects and examine the extent of the drug dealing from the residence," reads the police press release. "Anyone with information is asked to call Detective Brandt Gregus at (732) 745-5217."
Eighteen hours later, police responded to a reported robbery in progress at the "Rutgers Supermart" convenience store on the same block.
In that case, there were only two suspects who were described as Hispanic men wearing black Northface jackets, according to police radio transmissions.
The robbers made off with an undisclosed amount of cash from the register and, like the other incident, the victim was not physically harmed.
New Brunswick Police did not issue a press release about the second incident, where no arrests have been made yet. Rutgers University Police Department's crime alert included information about both incidents.
Over the past thirty years, the neighborhood between Hamilton Street and Easton Avenue has slowly become dominated by Rutgers University students and, to a lesser extent, immigrants.
It is not entirely clear whether there is more crime happening in the student-dominated neighborhood or whether crimes are just being more widely reported thanks to the expanded crime alerts and aggressive media coverage from outlets like New Brunswick Today.
Citywide, however, there was a 66% increase in robberies with a dangerous weapon, and a 63% increase in assaults with a dangerous weapon in 2014.
The city's police department has had little to say about the sharp increase in violent crimes.
After Rutgers waited weeks before publicly acknowledging the murder of a former student found in a backyard on Hartwell Street last February, Rutgers announced an expanded crime alert policy and new joint patrol efforts with the NBPD.
The recent crimes on Hamilton Street mirror other scary incidents that have been taking place in the Fifth and Sixth Wards of the city.
A few days before Christmas, masked men robbed a convenience store on Senior Street, and police have indicated that several recent robberies, like the incident Sunday night on Hamilton Street, were perpetrated by robbers who specifically target people dealing drugs out of their homes.
That incident came shortly after the sidewalk outside of 732 Lounge, a Hamilton Street bar on the same block in question, was the scene of an altercation where a man fired his gun into the air in December.
A few days later, a resident was robbed and pistol-whipped further up the road, near the intersection with Woodbridge Street. That same area was the scene of another alarming crime alert in August, after a man's throat was slashed outside the Hamilton Gardens Apartments.
But those are just a few of the incidents that were widely shared with the public thanks to the university's crime alert system.
As we have reported previously, the crime alert system is not always used for serious crimes, even shootings near campus buildings, such as a recent incident in a barber shop just over a block from the Rutgers College of Nursing.
Rutgers Police officials and a university spokesperson did not respond to questions about the lack of a crime alert for that incident.