- The Washington Times - Monday, April 28, 2003

The District's burgeoning homicide rate is outpacing that of many large cities, including Detroit, which held the unofficial title of "murder capital" in 2001.
The District had recorded 79 homicides this year, as of Friday, compared with 65 this time last year. The city had 262 killings last year, a rate of 45.82 per 100,000 residents, based on Metropolitan Police Department statistics.
Detroit Police Department figures indicate that the city recorded 402 killings last year, a homicide rate of 42.04 killings per 100,000 residents.
D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams expressed concern this week about the escalating homicide rate but emphatically answered "no" when asked whether the city would return to the days when it was routinely referred to as the murder capital of the nation.
"Here we have one of the safest downtown areas in the country and neighborhoods near the borders with murders as a way of life," he said. "The real issue here is that the homicide rates don't affect everyone. It is very geographically and neighborhood specific, and that is a tragedy."
But the District's homicide surge has prompted a study from a D.C. police watchdog group that says the city has once again become the nation's murder capital, a title the District held in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
SafeStreetsDC.com, a public safety advocacy group started in December by Adams Morgan political consultant John Aravosis, has completed a study indicating that the District had a higher homicide rate last year than any city in the nation with more than 500,000 residents.
Matt Forman, a lawyer and co-founder of SafeStreetsDC.com and principal author of the study, said that in compiling the statistics he used official FBI Uniformed Crime Report statistics from 2001 that indicated homicide levels in cities nationwide.
Mr. Forman obtained 2002 homicide totals for the 32 cities with populations of more than 500,000 from police department Web sites, in some instances calling to verify figures that weren't posted online.
According to the study, Detroit and the District switched places in the ranking, even though the former's homicide rate rose 1.8 percent, to 42.04 homicides per 100,000 residents, last year. The 2002 homicide rate in the District was a 12.9 percent increase over the 40.4 figure of the 2001.
The District finished fifth in total homicides, behind Los Angeles's 658, Chicago's 647, New York's 584 and Detroit's 402. But the District's rate was more than double that of Los Angeles, which had 17.48 killings per 100,000 residents. Homicide rates in Chicago and New York declined from 2001 to 2002.
Official FBI Uniformed Crime Report statistics will not be available until October.
Based on the FBI statistics, the District was dubbed the murder capital of the country for several years in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In 1991, when the number of homicides in the District peaked at 482, the rate was 79.42 killings per 100,000 residents.
At that time, police blamed the surge in killings on turf wars among gangs dealing drugs, particularly crack cocaine.
As recently as this week, D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey attributed the recent increase in killings to a high number of prisoners being released into the community, as well as a number of social factors that influence crime, such as an unsteady economy and unemployment.
Chief Ramsey said arguments and retaliation remain the No. 1 cause of homicides in the District.
"There's no question we should be held accountable," Chief Ramsey said Tuesday on WAMU-FM 88.5's "Kojo Nnamdi Show."
Mr. Williams has expressed confidence in Chief Ramsey. He also said he has every intention of giving the chief a new contract that would keep him in the District.
Mr. Aravosis, however, believes the homicide figures are evidence that Chief Ramsey has not been effective and should be replaced.
"Any public official who still supports Chief Ramsey bears full responsibility for D.C. being recrowned the murder capital," he said.
Although several members of the D.C. Council have expressed frustration with the chief in recent weeks because of resident complaints about a lack of officers in city neighborhoods, none has called for Chief Ramsey to be fired.
D.C. Council member Kathy Patterson Ward 3 Democrat and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, which oversees the police department said the police department has not put enough resources into investigating crimes and getting repeat offenders off the streets.
"I think it's regrettable, but really it's not a surprise," Mrs. Patterson said when notified of the results of the SafeStreetsDC.com study.
Mrs. Patterson recently recommended trimming a proposal in the mayor's budget plan to provide funding to hire enough officers to reach the department's authorized strength of 3,800.
She said the council has funded 3,800 officers for four years and that the department has spent the money but not hired the officers. She pointed out that with just more than 3,600 officers the District has the highest number of police officers per capita in the nation and that the funds would be better spent restoring pay raises that the mayor had proposed freezing.

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