- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 31, 2002

July is shaping up to be one of the bloodiest months in the four-year tenure of Metropolitan Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey.

Since April 1998, when Chief Ramsey was sworn in, only three months have had more killings than the 29 homicides that have been recorded this month March 1999 and October 2001, with 30 each, and October 1999, with 32.

"What we're finding is it's up and down the spectrum," said Capt. Thomas McGuire, who heads the department's violent crimes branch. "There is no one motive or cause for these homicides."

Police say the killings run the gamut from domestic arguments that escalate into violence to drug-related slayings. Capt. McGuire said that the victims spanned all ages and demographics, but that most were young men.

D.C. Council member Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat, blamed the spate of homicides on gang violence.

"We know a lot of this is gang-related," Mr. Graham said yesterday. "This city needs a focused, comprehensive and substantive action to prevent this type of violence."

Mr. Graham said police need to do more to prevent gang behavior, such as cracking down on loitering and aggressively enforcing the youth curfew.

Capt. McGuire was quick to point out that labeling a homicide as "gang-related" can often give the wrong impression.

He said a "gang-related" homicide can as easily occur internally between members of a gang as between gangs.

The homicide total for the year stands at 138, up from 102 through last July. The city finished the year with 233 homicides.

Police say comparing this year's figures with last year's isn't necessarily accurate because for much of last year the number of homicides was at a 30-year low. Statistics bear that out.

Through July 2000, there were 140 homicides. Through July 1999, there were 135, and through July 1998, there were 145.

While the number of homicides is on the rise, police apparently have stabilized the case-closure rate, which has steadily declined during Chief Ramsey's tenure.

The closure rate for homicide cases stands at 49 percent, slightly above last year's rate of 48.5 percent and slightly below the goal posted on the mayor's performance "scorecard" of 50.9 percent.

In 1997, the year before Chief Ramsey arrived, the case-closure rate was 70 percent.

Capt. McGuire said January's centralization of the city's 48 homicide detectives in the violent crimes branch is having an effect. "I think when you look at this year, it's going in the right direction," he said.

Still, he said the department has trouble getting community members to come forward and testify when they have knowledge of a homicide.

"They want the police to do our job. They want a safe neighborhood," Capt. McGuire said. "I think there's just a level of fear."

Council member Kathy Patterson, who heads the Judiciary Committee, called the rise in homicides "very bad news."

The Ward 3 Democrat said there's still progress to be made on how detectives handle "basic police work," but the stabilization of the closure rate is encouraging.

"At least the closure rate is not getting worse with the rise in the homicide rate," Mrs. Patterson said.

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