- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The year is drawing to a close with homicides in the District at a 45-year low, reflecting a national trend that law enforcement officials are attributing to multipronged crime-prevention strategies that include advances in communication and coordination.

With just two days left in the year, according to preliminary numbers from the police department, the District has had 138 homicides compared with 184 at the same time last year, setting up the city to record the lowest number of homicides since 1964, when 132 were reported killed. Metropolitan Police Department officials attribute the decline to a “perfect storm” of crime-fighting strategies, including a new culture of communication within the police department.

“The level of involvement far surpasses anything I’ve ever seen,” said Metropolitan Police Commander Daniel Hickson, a more than 30-year veteran of the department and former homicide detective. “To imagine we’re at 138 is unbelievable.”

Commander Hickson said the District - known two decades ago as the “murder capital” of the country - has made progress by targeting violent gun offenders and emphasizing community policing and communication among officers.

The result this year has been a drop in violent crime and property crime. The sharpest drop was in homicides, at 25 percent, followed by a 16 percent decline in sexual assaults and a 10 percent decrease in car thefts.

View a PDF of the crime statistics (PDF)

The department has also reported a 75 percent homicide closure rate so far this year and put a lid on violence in the Trinidad neighborhood, ending a spasm of killing in the Northeast Washington neighborhood that grabbed national headlines last year.

Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier has said that success in closing homicide cases has been in part because of her signature All Hands on Deck initiative during which all officers, including recruits, work patrol shifts over three-day periods.

The District’s numbers are part of a downward trend reflected in many other major cities and nationwide.

According to the FBI’s uniform crime report, law enforcement agencies across the country experienced a decrease in violent crime for the first six months of 2009 from the same period the year earlier. Violent crime, which includes homicide, rape, robbery and aggravated assault, decreased by 4.4 percent.

The largest decrease in violent crimes - defined as homicide, rape, robbery and aggravated assault - came in the homicide rate. The homicide rate was down 10 percent from the same period in 2008, according to the report, but the violent-crime numbers declined in every category.

New York, Los Angeles and Philadelphia all have seen significant declines in homicides, according to nearly complete annual data from all three departments provided to The Washington Times on Tuesday. As of Sunday, homicides had fallen by 11 percent in New York compared with the same period in 2008; as of Tuesday, homicides had declined by 9 percent in Philadelphia; and as of Sunday, Los Angeles had an 11 percent decrease.

However, several cities reported an increase in homicides. One of them was Baltimore, which reported 235 homicides as of Tuesday compared with 233 last year.

In addition, the same FBI report had property crimes - defined as burglary, larceny, motor vehicle theft and arson - decreasing even more significantly than violent crimes, declining 6.1 percent overall in the first half of 2009 versus the first six months of 2008.

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey said he thinks the decline in Philadelphia and other cities is in large part because of more effective use of crime data.

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