- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 30, 2002

Police departments are scrambling to reverse an unexpected increase in homicides, robberies and rapes around the region.

Some law enforcement officials say that an increase in crime is typical in the spring, but cannot explain Prince George's County's 33 percent increase in homicides and the 71 percent increase in rapes since Jan. 1, compared with the same period last year.

Alexandria officials and police are disturbed by the city's first increase in serious crime in a decade an 11 percent increase during the last year and have created a "special-detail team" to arrest suspects in targeted neighborhoods.

"We know where the crimes are occurring, and we know what time of day they're occurring. So we've set up a system for strategic deployment in the areas where the crimes are onging," said Alexandria Police Lt. John Crawford.

The number of aggravated assaults rose by 22.5 percent in Alexandria, from 151 in 2000 to 185 last year, but Lt. Crawford noted that those statistics are lower than the 10-year average of 266.

D.C. police said the situation on city streets isn't the same as that in the suburbs, noting a 10 percent drop in homicides citywide since the first of the year, despite a highly publicized series of gang-related shootings in certain sections of the city during the last 20 days.

In the past two days, D.C. officers have arrested five persons accused of murder and two accused of assault with intent to kill, police Chief Charles H. Ramsey said yesterday.

He said shootings are likely the result of a group of "hard-core criminals" on whom police are focusing their efforts. Police said six shootings during the last month that left four persons dead and eight wounded were probably linked.

"Violence cannot be tolerated on the streets," Chief Ramsey said. "Anyone who pulls into a housing complex and unleashes an AK-47 as well as other semi-automatic weapons is just a violent thug who needs to be thrown in jail as soon as possible."

The chief stressed the citywide drops in robberies, assaults and thefts from autos since Jan. 1, despite a handful of crime-rate increases in certain police districts. For example, the 5th Police District recorded seven homicides through Feb. 1 last year and eight during the same period this year a 14.3 percent increase. In the 3rd District, 56 robberies were reported from Jan. 1 to March 1 last year, compared with 115 during the same period this year a 105 percent increase.

"Obviously, when the warmer months come, we get more concerned with street crime and violence, because people are out and about during that period, but this time last year we didn't see that," Chief Ramsey said. "Things were relatively quiet."

Significant increases in crime rates can happen any time, he added.

"What you have to look at is the total picture," he said. "When you look at the problem we have with robberies, you have to consider that this time last year, we had almost a 28 percent increase in robbery citywide. Robberies are actually down citywide so far this year."

In Prince George's County, 48 rapes have been reported since New Year's Day, compared with 20 during the same period last year. Robberies are up by more than 34 percent, and the number of carjackings has risen 30 percent, from 66 last year to 86 this year.

So far there have been 32 homicides, compared with 29 last year. "The numbers really show that there's been an across-the-board increase," said county police Cpl. Robert Clark, who declined to comment further.

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