- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Overall violent crime has fallen by more than 25 percent in the Washington metropolitan area over the past 10 years, but homicides have reached their highest peak since 2006, according to a report by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

The report mirrors statistics compiled in other large urban centers, where total crime including robberies has declined but homicides have increased in the past two years.

The area covered in the report stretches from Frederick County, Maryland, to Prince William County, Virginia. In that region, the population has grown by nearly 10 percent, to 5.5 million people, since 2006. Over the same period, the per capita crime rate has dropped from 25 per 1,000 people to 21 per 1,000 people. That statistic includes violent and property crimes.

Violent crime across the region fell from 21,483 cases in 2006 to 15,543 in 2015 — a 28 percent reduction. Over the past five years, the number of violent offenses has remained relatively unchanged from year to year. The report notes 15,845 violent crimes in 2011 and 15,543 in 2015, with no significant spikes in the intervening years.

However, the homicide rates have rebounded. In 2006, the region recorded 364 homicides, and a decade later the tally is 307. But the number declined significantly from 2011 to 2014.

The report attributes the regional increase in homicides to a rise in slayings in the District and in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties. Other jurisdictions recorded unchanged or lower homicide rates over the past five years.

Authorities in the District and Montgomery and Prince George’s counties could not identify a specific cause for the uptick but did offer some contributing factors.

The Metropolitan Police Department said the District’s higher homicide rate results in part from repeat violent offenders with illegal firearms, “many of whom were under some type of court-ordered supervision at the time of the homicide.”

Council of Governments board member Phil Mendelson, who also chairs the D.C. Council, said guns have long been a problem in the city, even when the homicide rate was much lower.

“This doesn’t help answer a very fundamental question about why homicides have gone up,” Mr. Mendelson said Wednesday.

Metropolitan Police Department Assistant Chief Lamar Greene said the city’s homicide gains also result from semi-automatic guns with extended magazines.

“We find 30, 40 [spent] rounds left on the streets,” Chief Greene said. “It’s certainly something we weren’t accustomed to seeing as often in the past years.”

Other metropolitan regions across the country have reported similar spikes in homicides in the past year. The number in Baltimore jumped from 211 in 2014 to 344 in 2015. Chicago’s homicides increased from 427 in 2014 to 493 last year.

The homicide rate is down 11 percent in 2016 in the District, from 110 at this point last year to 98 this year. Baltimore has recorded 214 homicides this year and 228 over the same period last year. That’s a 6 percent reduction.

The Chicago Police Department tallied 384 homicides during the first seven months of 2016, compared with 267 over the same period last year.

The Council of Governments report suggests improving community relations with police to help prevent crime, as well as developing more transparency in police operations — especially with the use of body-worn cameras.

“When police officers or members of the public violate the law and officers intervene, body-worn cameras can create a public record,” the report says.

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