Crime decreased across the D.C. area by about 6 percent from 2010 to 2011, law enforcement leaders said Wednesday. But at the same time, criminals and gangs are more likely to organize outside their own neighborhoods and to focus on property crime or robberies.
Lower level property crimes, such as shoplifting or other thefts, are increasingly being linked to criminal organizations that operate across the region.
"It's not just arresting a shoplifter. It's looking beyond that and asking what organization is prompting those thefts. Is there one? We've found quite a few," Prince George's County Police Chief Mark A. Magaw said Wednesday at a meeting of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.
Criminals that used to run open air drug markets in the heyday of the crack epidemic have moved away from the often violent trade and in their place have risen gangs that specialize in property crimes, Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier said.
"We're starting to see a shift in the criminal gang activity from simply drug market activities to robberies and property crimes, which mean the demographics of how they organize or how they meet and become a gang is changing," Chief Lanier said.
Instead of all coming from the same neighborhood, she said criminals may now come from a large mix of localities and meet up in central entertainment areas.
"The challenge for us now going forward is validating gang members and identifying their activities through the new areas of development where they are organizing," Chief Lanier said.
According to information released at the Council of Governments meeting, crime rates — including homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny and motor vehicle thefts — decreased in 16 of the 20 law enforcement departments from the region that were included in the report. The Metropolitan Police Department, Fairfax City Police Department, Loudoun County Sheriff's Office and Frederick County Sheriff's Office all recorded crime increases of 3 percent or less during that time.
A total of 127,349 offenses were reported last year by agencies including D.C. police and police departments in Prince George's, Montgomery, Fairfax, Arlington, Prince William and Frederick counties as well as 13 municipal agencies located within those jurisdictions.
During the same period, officials said calls for service to those 20 agencies is up by about 5 percent overall. Prince George's County police received the most calls for service last year, with 973,819 such calls, followed by D.C. police, who received 597,614 calls for service.
To continue to improve on the reductions in crime, Chief Magaw stressed police partnerships with the communities they serve.
"Everything begins and ends with the relationship with the community," he said. "We can double the size of our police department, but the real key is the relationship with the community. If that becomes better, the ability of the police department grows exponentially — and without it, we aren't very good at all."
© Copyright 2015 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.