- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Last year’s homicide tallies were lower than 2002’s in virtually every jurisdiction in the metropolitan area, law enforcement authorities said yesterday.

The District led the way, with a decline in killings from 262 in 2002 to 246 last year. Montgomery, Prince George’s, Fairfax and Arlington counties also reported declines.

“I think it’s definitely headed in the right direction,” said Metropolitan Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey.

The only jurisdiction that saw an increase in homicides was Alexandria, which recorded four killings in last year, compared with two in 2002.

Around the region:

• In Prince George’s County, homicide totals decreased from 137 in 2002 to 128.

• In Montgomery County, there were 21 killings, compared with 32 in 2002. Six of the 2002 killings resulted from the sniper siege.

• Fairfax County’s killings declined from 21 in 2002 to 10.

• Arlington County had three killings, compared with five in 2002.

Chief Ramsey said the drop in homicides in the District coincided with a 3 percent overall reduction in crime, which he credited in part to a crime-fighting initiative he implemented in August.

The chief suspended a clause in the department’s contract with the officers’ union, allowing him to cancel days off and change shifts and assignments without the union-mandated 14-day notice.

“I think the crime initiative definitely had an impact,” Chief Ramsey said, noting that overall crime in the city declined 14 percent after the initiative was put in place on Aug. 27.

The crime initiative, which was extended Dec. 1, is set to expire Monday, and Chief Ramsey said he has no plans to extend it. He said police will monitor the situation as the new year begins to see if escalating crime levels necessitate suspending the clause again.

“If I need to do it again, I will,” he said. “You can’t just do it indefinitely; there has to be a beginning and an end.”

Chief Ramsey also credited hard work on the part of police detectives and tighter leadership for an increase in the homicide closure rate from 55 percent in 2002 to 60 percent last year. He said the national average for similar-sized cities is 55 percent.

D.C. Council members and community leaders criticized the chief over the escalating homicide rate during negotiations on his pay raise last year.

Until late October, homicide totals in the District tracked higher than those in 2002, soaring 25 percent above the prior year at one point in May.

Additionally, FBI statistics released in November showed the District had regained the dubious, unofficial title of “murder capital” of the nation’s big cities in 2002 based on per capita statistics.

The two cities that trailed the District — Detroit and Baltimore — reported a rise in homicides last year. Baltimore recorded 271 homicides as of yesterday, up from 252 in 2002. Preliminary figures from Detroit showed 407 killings through last week, up from 402 in 2002.


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