PATERSON, NJ – Police officers spent hours scouring the streets of the city’s historic district Wednesday afternoon trying to catch a man identified as the prime suspect in two recent rapes in the heart of Paterson’s downtown.

Officers went to the man’s job, a textile factory at 18 Market Street, to arrest him at about 3 pm, but someone tipped him off that the police were coming there for him and he slipped out a back door, authorities said.

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Lt. Richard Reyes identified the suspect as 42-year-old Rafael Velez, a Paterson resident. Police have charged him with two counts of aggravated sexual assault, two counts of kidnapping, 2 counts of possession of a weapon for unlawful purpose, and 2 counts of robbery.

Velez is described as a light skinned Hispanic male, tall, between the ages of 30 and 40 years old. “He approaches his victims with a very calm and sincere demeanor before he grabs them and puts a knife against them forcing them to go with him,’’ according to a city police press release.

Velez remains at large and is considered armed and dangerous. Reyes declined to say exactly where in Paterson Velez lives. The search for him continued into the night.

Velez allegedly committed two rapes at 129 Market Street, several blocks from where he works. In both instances – one on September 14 and the other on October 1 – police say the suspect coerced women into the building at knife-point, forced them up to the sixth floor and raped them. Both crimes happened at about 6 pm.

The building, less than a block from City Hall, has women’s clothing stores on the first and second floors and a medical facility on the third floor. The fourth, fifth and sixth floors of the building are vacant.

In at least one instance, he threatened to kill the victim’s family if she alerted police, according to authorities.

Police also are looking into whether Velez is responsible for a third rape that happened on October 2 on McBride Avenue near the Great Falls. In that case, the attacker also used a knife to force the victim into a secluded area.

All three victims were teenagers, ages 18 and 19.

“The Paterson Police Detective Bureau is also investigating the possibilities that there may be other victims that have not come forward,’’ said the press release. “We encourage any other person that may have been victimized or may have information of a person that was victimized to contact the Paterson Police Detective Bureau at 973-321-1120.”