The number of homicides in the District declined in 2011 for the third straight year, a downward trend that has seen deadly violence in the city drop by more than half from just a decade ago.
Police reported 109 homicides last year, the lowest total in the city since 1963 and an 18 percent decrease from the 132 killings in 2010. Officials say community cooperation and good detective work are factors in the declines, which with each passing year seem to build on historic reductions.
The District's 2011 figure represents fewer than half the 232 homicides recorded 10 years ago in 2001, which itself was a decrease by more than half from the 479 killings two decades ago in 1991, when gang battles fueled by crack cocaine and automatic weapons drove the levels of violence to record highs.
"Obviously I'm happy about the reduction in homicides, but we have challenges going forward," Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier said, noting that a spike in thefts and thefts from vehicles - mostly, the chief said, of handheld electronic devices - pushed the District's overall crime rate up by about 2 percent.
The number of homicides also were down in other major cities: New York City reportedly had 502 murders as of Thursday, compared to 523 in 2010. Baltimore reported 196 homicides this year, the fewest in roughly 20 years. And Chicago had 419 through Tuesday, compared to 437 in 2010.
However, the number of homicides increased in Philadelphia. The city had 324 as of Thursday, compared to 306 in 2010 and 302 in 2009, according to news reports.
Prince George's County, which shares a border with the District and typically experiences similar problems with crime and violence, finished 2011 with 95 homicides, compared to 90 in 2010. The increase was fueled by a spate of 16 killings in January that authorities describe as an aberration.
"They would have most likely been down if not for that at the beginning of the year," police spokesman Cpl. Henry Tippett said.
Despite the homicide increase, Prince George's County saw an overall decrease in both violent and property crime. As of Dec. 30, the county recorded a 14.6 percent decrease in robberies with 1,797 robberies reported and an 8.2 percent decrease in assaults with 2,662 assaults reported, Cpl. Tippett said.
"The summer crime initiative we had was probably a huge success as far as the overall crime reduction," Cpl. Tippett said, recounting how the department provided extra patrols and zeroed in on repeat offenders in five high-crime areas of the county.
Elsewhere in the region, other jurisdictions saw decreases, albeit more modest ones than in the District.
Arlington County had no homicides in 2011 after finishing 2010 with just one killing, Detective Crystal Nosal said.
Montgomery County police recorded 16 homicides last year compared to 17 homicides in 2010, police spokeswoman Angela Cruz said. Police closed 14 of the cases.
In Fairfax County, police said there were 11 killings last year compared to 16 in 2010, police spokesman Officer Bud Walker said. Officers closed nine of last year's cases. Prince George's County detectives closed 63 homicide cases.
In the District, police reported an astounding 94 percent homicide case closure rate. Detectives closed 62 of the homicide cases from this year along with cold cases from prior years, Capt. Michael Farrish said.
Chief Lanier credited community partnerships that have encouraged residents to help with police investigations.
Referencing 33 homicide cases in which police arrested a suspect within a week, Chief Lanier said that this year detectives have reduced the time it takes to solve cases, thereby stopping the domino effect of tit-for-tat killings that in previous years led to higher body counts.
"Detectives are working hard and have taken the suspects off the streets before the retaliatory violence can begin," Chief Lanier said.
The difference has come from residents who are more willing to share information about suspects and crimes. She said the department has received more than 1,200 tips through its tip line this year, up from 200 when the line opened in 2008.
"People in the neighborhoods are giving us information in ways that we've never seen," Chief Lanier said.
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