- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 2, 2003

Homicides increased dramatically throughout the metropolitan area last year.

In addition, the District and Baltimore yesterday recorded their first homicides of 2003.

The District ended the year with 262 slayings, a 12 percent increase from the 233 killings in 2001, according to the Metropolitan Police Department. It is the city's highest homicide tally since 1997, when 301 persons were slain.

Police in Prince George's County recorded 137 homicides last year, a 17 percent increase from the 2001 tally of 117 killings. The county had 71 slayings in 2000.

Montgomery County closed 2002 with 32 slayings, up from 19 in 2001 and the most since 1994, according to county police. Six of the killings occurred during the three-week sniper attacks that harried the area in October.

Fairfax County reported an increase in homicides from 12 in 2001 to 20 in 2002, one of which occurred during the sniper attacks.

Arlington County had six slayings last year, compared with three in 2001.

Alexandria was the only local jurisdiction to see a decrease in homicides, from three in 2001 to two last year.

D.C. police said the number of shootings and stabbings in the District declined last year, even though the number of homicides increased significantly for the first time in several years.

D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey said victims increasingly are being shot several times escalating the likelihood that altercations end in death.

Other area jurisdictions had no immediate explantions for the increase in homicides.

Last month, Chief Ramsey told The Washington Times that one explanation for the rising toll is the skyrocketing abuse of the drug PCP in the District. Federal analysts have said PCP use by D.C. residents is on par with crack cocaine use.

"In cases where we know or suspect the motive, over one-third of the killings are drug-related," said D.C. police spokesman Sgt. Joe Gentile.

Police also say gang violence and retaliation, as well as an influx of former inmates returning to the District, are to blame for the homicide rate.

Despite the increase in killings, D.C. police said the closure rate of homicide cases rose to 55 percent during 2002, exceeding Mayor Anthony A. Williams' "scorecard" goal of 50.9 percent.

While the 2002 closure rate is up from the 2001 rate of 48.5 percent, it had declined steadily from when Chief Ramsey took charge of the police force in April 1998. In 1997, the closure rate was a little more than 70 percent.

The chief addressed the problem recently by transferring from the homicide division three detectives who he said were not getting the job done.

Chief Ramsey has stressed that the 2002 homicide case closure rate is comparable to rates in other large cities. However, the closure rate is still well below the national average of 63 percent.

Police said one of the problems in solving the growing number of homicides is that witnesses to killings in the District often refuse to share information with investigators.

Meanwhile, the District recorded its first homicide of 2003, with the death of a man who had been shot New Year's Eve.

Quinton Little, 23, was shot in the head about 6 p.m. Tuesday in the 1300 block of Perry Place NW. He died about 6:40 a.m. yesterday at the Washington Hospital Center.

D.C. police have no motive or suspects.

Yesterday, Baltimore had its first two homicides of 2003, police spokeswoman Ragina Averella said. Police said they found a man and a woman fatally shot in a car in the 2100 block of Cliftwood Avenue in East Baltimore about 2 a.m. yesterday.

Investigators had no suspects, Miss Averella said.

H.J. Brier contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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