D.C. Touts Lowest Homicide Rate in Nearly 50 Years

There were 108 homicides as of Thursday

District officials are trumpeting what they say is the lowest homicide rate in nearly half a century.

The decline mirrors a nationwide trend of falling rates in major American cities. But it's startling in a city ravaged more than two decades ago by the crack epidemic and where homicides totaled 479 in 1991.

There were 108 homicides as of Thursday. The homicide rate hasn't been this low since 1963, officials said, though the numbers have been steadily dropping over the past two decades.

Here is the homicide trend from the past 20 years:

  • 2010: 132
  • 2009: 144
  • 2008: 186
  • 2007: 181
  • 2006: 169
  • 2005: 196
  • 2004: 198
  • 2003: 248
  • 2002: 262
  • 2001: 232
  • 2000: 242
  • 1999: 241
  • 1998: 360
  • 1997: 301
  • 1996: 397
  • 1995: 361
  • 1994: 399
  • 1993: 454
  • 1992: 443
  • 1991: 479

Mayor Vincent Gray and Police Chief Cathy Lanier plan to announce the progress at a news conference Friday.

Lanier credited the decline to the quick turnaround time in closing cases, which removes the killer from the street before he can kill again or himself be killed in retribution. She also touted the department's work in targeting violent gang members and improved technology that helps detectives analyze evidence and solve crimes.

Lanier said she was optimistic that the department can build on the success, saying she had hoped for fewer than 100 homicides this year and still considers that a reachable target.

"We've kind of mastered what our biggest drivers of homicides are,'' Lanier told The Associated Press.

In a separate interview, Gray attributed the drop in part to smarter community policing and to stronger leadership in the police districts that patrol the poorer, historically more violent neighborhoods of southeast Washington. He also said he was encouraged that the D.C. police department, which has been struggling with severe attrition, will again be adding to the force through recruitment.

"A lot of us say, 'If people don't feel safe, then they're not really safe,''' Gray said Thursday. "I think people are feeling a lot safer.''

Kris Baumann, the leader of the D.C. police union, said he was pleased by the homicide decline but disappointed that the numbers were as high as they were and by the fact that crime totals in several categories, including sex abuse and theft, had increased in 2011. Overall, total crime is up by 2 percent over last year, the figures show.

Baumann also said the police department doesn't get enough support from the D.C. Council.

"I'm thrilled and everyone is thrilled,'' he said, but added, "The numbers are still shocking.''

Meanwhile, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley said Thursday that he was heartened by news that the number of murders in Baltimore is on the decline and approaching the goal that he set when he campaigned for mayor a decade ago.

O'Malley, who was Baltimore mayor from 1999 to 2007, made his comments during an end-of-year round-table discussion with reporters.

He recalled that when he first ran for mayor, he said he wanted to bring the number of murders to 175 -- at a time when there were more than 300. The number of murders in the city dropped below 300 when he was mayor, but never got close to the 175 goal.

"So to be at 195 on December 28th, and to see that 175 mark on the horizon, to think of all the moms and all the dads that aren't going to be standing by graves of their kids, I don't think there's anything about which I will ever be more grateful in public service, and I'm not going to quibble with God over the timing,'' said O'Malley, a Democrat.

The recent homicide decline began in 2007, the year that Frederick H. Bealefeld III took over as police chief, and the next year saw a 17 percent drop to 234 slayings. Baltimore is now on track to see the lowest homicide rate in more than 20 years. City leaders credit a sustained focus on repeat violent offenders and increased community engagement for the continued drop, which reflects a nationwide decline.

Still, the success in bringing down the murder rate is hardly unique to the nation's capital and Baltimore.

New York City, for instance, has had a two-decade decline in crime, and officials there predict a murder rate drop of at least 4 percent in 2011. There were 499 murders reported through Dec. 25 compared to 523 in the same span in 2010.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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