Homicides Decrease in Washington Region

Allison Klein, Washington Post, December 31, 2012

The number of homicides dropped again last year in the Washington region, including in the District, which grew in population and yet recorded the fewest killings in a half-century.

As of Monday evening, the District had 88 killings in 2012, a milestone for D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier, whose long-standing goal has been fewer than 100 homicides. As recently as 2009, the District had 140 killings. In 2011, there were 108.

In Prince George’s County, where crime dropped in nearly every category, there were 63 homicides, down from 97 in 2011, a harkening back to the 1980s, when the county had more farmland than urban centers or upscale subdivisions.

Police point to several reasons for the decrease, which has been part of a years-long national trend in some major cities across the country. Authorities have broken up dozens of violent gangs, seized thousands of guns, used technology to monitor the streets and directed additional resources to high-crime areas.

And District officials have given residents a financial incentive to provide tips: nearly $600,000 in reward money was paid out last year.

Although homicides have fallen, robberies have been a stubborn problem in the District. Smartphones and designer apparel are popular targets. {snip}

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Killings in some of the region’s suburbs, where violent crimes are far more infrequent, remained about the same as the previous year, with Montgomery County recording 15 and Alexandria none. {snip}

In the District, which has added more than 30,000 residents in just over two years, gun assaults also decreased about 11 percent last year, continuing a recent trend. But overall, assaults with deadly weapons have increased about 7 percent, police data show.

One of the most widespread crimes in recent years has been street robbery. At the beginning of the year, holdups spiked so severely that the department turned its focus to curbing them, beefing up its robbery unit and deploying extra patrols and teams of undercover decoys.

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New York City announced an all-time low in homicides this year, with 414 as of Friday, 100 fewer than in 2011. The city also posted a record low number of shootings, 1,353, down from 1,420 the previous year.

Chicago, however, is experiencing a wave of violence and recently recorded its 500th killing of 2012.

Homicides in Philadelphia and Baltimore remain down significantly from historic highs, but were up slightly compared with 2011.

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In recent years, the drug trade has steadily declined as open-air markets have faded and criminals have turned to stealing and selling smartphones and other devices. Last year, there were fewer than 10 drug-related homicides, officials said—a far cry from the 1990s, when the trade in crack cocaine was much of the reason the District saw close to 500 homicides a year.

In 2007, Lanier said, there were 70 gangs involved in criminal activity. Now there are about 20. {snip}

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Gang unit officers targeted certain areas and let gang members know that they were being watched. If a gang fight broke out in a school or on Metro, officers would be on members’ doorsteps hours later, telling them they would go to jail if they retaliated.

The department has emphasized technology. The District has the country’s biggest deployment of ShotSpotter gun sensor technology, which alerts police to the sound of gunfire. Lanier also oversees the department’s license plate readers, scores of cameras fanned across the city that spot wanted cars and monitor vehicles traveling in and out the District.

Police are testing a system that would beam real-time footage of shooting scenes directly to laptops inside patrol cars. The program connects ShotSpotters with the department’s 91 closed-circuit surveillance street cameras.

The hope, Lanier says, is that officers can use the technology to quickly track down shooters and witnesses. “It will be a tremendous asset,” she said.

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