NEW ORLEANS - Thousands of people are set to arrive in New Orleans for the Jazz and Heritage Festival this weekend at the Fair Grounds.
But neighbors are concerned about an alarming spike in armed robberies this month in the area.
The latest happened one block from the fairgrounds Wednesday night, in the 2800 block of Maurepas Street.
Police say a woman was sitting in her car just before 8 p.m. when a man robbed her at knife point.
“She was sitting for no more than five or 10 seconds, and he came right up to the window and robbed her,” said Daniel Kleinpeter, a friend of the victim. “He asked her for her money, she didn't have much, and she told him that and he grabbed her phone and ran off.”
The victim had just parked near Kleinpeter’s home to visit him and his roommates.
“As soon as he started running away she started screaming she was like, 'Help, somebody help! Help, help!'” said Kleinpeter.
Kleinpeter said police responded quickly, searching homes on the block after the incident. But the perpetrator remains at large.
Neighbors said the crime has already made them more cautious.
“I have my mace on me now, actually, right after the incident,” said Ellen Wieczorek, another friend of the victim.
Wednesday night's armed robbery is the fifth near the Fair Grounds in three weeks, according to New Orleans Police crime maps.
Police believe the same teen is responsible for the area’s first four armed robberies in April. The 16-year-old suspect has been arrested. Police are not releasing his identity because he is a juvenile.
But Wednesday night’s perpetrator is different, said police, since the juvenile remains behind bars.
“Total different description. This is an older male using a knife. The kid that we arrested didn't use a knife, doesn't fit the description at all,” said First District Commander Bob Norton.
Police arrested the 16-year-old suspect inside Stallings Playground after an April 9 armed robbery on St. Bernard and N. Gayoso. The teen and another man approached a 15-year-old boy walking home from school and took his cell phone at gunpoint, said police.
Police believe the 16-year-old is also responsible for robbing a Domino’s pizza delivery driver at gunpoint in the 2800 block of Aubry Street the night before, as well as two other armed robberies this month in broad daylight. He has not yet been officially charged in those additional crimes.
“It is a great concern when our young people are choosing guns instead of basketball,” said Morgan Clevenger, president of the Fairgrounds Triangle Neighborhood Association.
“What we are looking for is that continued police presence,” said Kermit Roberson, vice president of the Fairgrounds Triangle Neighborhood Association. “We are the gateway to the fairgrounds.”
Police say they'll beef up presence during Jazz Fest, with 250 officers patrolling in and around the fairgrounds.
“We feel really comfortable and good about our deployment for the festival, and we think it's going to be safe,” said Norton.
“While Jazz Fest is probably one of the safest places to be in New Orleans during that event, we want to be safe all year round,” said Clevenger.
Police describe the suspect in Wednesday night's armed robbery as a black male in his 30s wearing a ski mask, sweatpants and a sweatshirt.
They say he has short hair and stands between 5’9” and 6’ tall and weighs between 150-160 pounds.
If you have any information, call Crimestoppers at (504) 822-1111.