- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 11, 2002

Metropolitan Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey yesterday said a resurgence in the abuse of PCP this year has contributed to an increase in homicides in the District.
"It's really alarming. We are seeing PCP use on the rise, and when you couple that with the number of weapons on the streets, we are seeing an increased number of homicides. [Last year] we weren't recovering much PCP, [then] around the first of the year it exploded," Chief Ramsey said during a luncheon with editors and reporters at The Washington Times.
As of yesterday, the District had 245 homicides, compared with 217 this time last year, he said. Most of the slayings have occurred in the 5th, 6th and 7th Police Districts, the same areas in the eastern part of the city where street-level use of PCP has exploded this year.
Yet with homicides on the rise, his detectives' rate of solving those crimes has declined to about 50 percent, Chief Ramsey said. In fact, the homicide closure rate "has always gone down since I've been here," he said, adding that he is "not proud of that."
The chief said he will evaluate the performance of his 48 homicide detectives and reassign those who are not "pulling their weight," citing the Chandra Levy investigation as an example of ineffective detective work. Though police have no leads or suspects, the Levy case will be solved, he said, most likely by someone coming forward and confessing to it.
"I wish we had found [her] bones," Chief Ramsey said of his officers' search of Rock Creek Park, where a private detective for Miss Levy's family found her femur after police had scoured the area and recovered some of her remains. The chief said had they recovered her remains earlier, they might have collected forensic evidence that could have cracked the case.
A former federal intern, Miss Levy was last seen April 30, 2001, and her remains were discovered 13 months later. The investigation drew national and international attention.
Meanwhile, officers have taken more than 1,800 firearms off city streets this year, including a significant number of high-powered weapons such as AK-47s, Mac 10s and Mac 11s, Chief Ramsey said.
Criminals are more often shooting victims in the head, he said, explaining one factor behind the increase in homicides.
Another factor an increase in the street use of the animal tranquilizer phencyclidine, commonly known as PCP, or angel dust is making drug abusers more violent. Chief Ramsey said most of the city's homicides have resulted from arguments and retaliations, "not necessarily gangs and drugs."
PCP is being transported and used in its liquid form today, compared to the crystalline and powder forms of the 1980s, when the drug was in its heyday. Drug abusers apply liquid PCP to cigarettes and cigars, called "dippers," then smoke them, the chief said.
Earlier this year, Baltimore police found 200 gallons of PCP, and some of it was "headed this way," said Chief Ramsey, who said a police source late last year warned him of the imminent increase in PCP abuse in the city.
Chief Ramsey said it was difficult to catch PCP dealers at first because they carried the drug in glass vials and would break the vials by throwing them onto the street when officers approached. He said prosecutors have allowed officers to submit caps from the vials as evidence if the odor of the drug can be detected.
With regard to his department's 50 percent homicide closure rate, the chief noted that the national average for comparably sized cities is about 56 percent. He has removed four detectives from the homicide unit and one from the cold-case squad for failing to close investigations.
He said some of the problems with the homicide detectives were caused by his decision to assign them to individual police districts, rather than keep them together as one unit. He reorganized them into single unit last year.
"It was a mistake to do it," Chief Ramsey said of the decentralization. "It diluted our talent."
Chief Ramsey said many of the killings have gone unsolved because some residents fear being targeted by criminals or have retaliated on their own. However, those motives do not indicate a failure in community policing, which is designed to reduce crime, he said.
"Some of it is fear," the chief said. "They are afraid for themselves and their children. They don't want to be next."
Chief Ramsey said he monitors crime trends daily and sends more officers into areas being plagued by crime and drugs.
The chief, who took charge of the Metropolitan Police Department in 1998, also said he would like to have Mayor Anthony A. Williams extend his contract, which expires in April.
"I want to stay longer to take it further on," he said. "I'd like to hand it off to the next person so they can take it further on."

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