The District reclaimed its status as murder capital of the United States last year, according to FBI statistics released yesterday.
The FBI’s Uniform Crime Report, which tracks crime trends across the nation, revealed that the District had a higher homicide rate last year than any other city in the nation with more than 500,000 residents.
The city had 262 killings last year, a rate of 45.82 per 100,000 residents. Detroit came in second, with 402 killings, or 42.04 per capita.
The information was released a day before the D.C. Council is scheduled to debate a $25,000 pay raise for Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey.
Yesterday, Chief Ramsey dismissed as “arbitrary” the city’s appellation, but not the homicide problem.
“You’ve got to look at progress when it’s there and not say, ‘You’re still not doing enough,’” Chief Ramsey said. “Am I saying our rate should be lower than that? Sure, I’m saying that. This city had almost 500 murders 10 years ago. We had 200 fewer last year.”
Chief Ramsey pointed out that New Orleans had 258 homicides and a per-capita rate of 53.3 per 100,000. But New Orleans has 484,289 residents, so it is listed in a different class of cities from the District.
“I think it kind of shows the relevance of that,” Chief Ramsey said.
The District finished fifth in number of homicides — behind Los Angeles at 654, Chicago at 648, New York at 590 and Detroit at 402. But the District’s homicide rate was more than double that of Los Angeles, which had 17.48 killings per 100,000 residents.
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.
“There are too many murders in this city, we all agree to that,” said Margret Nedelkoff Kellems, deputy mayor for public safety and justice. “But there has been progress through the years, and there has been progress under Chief Ramsey.”
Detroit and the District switched places in the ranking, even though the Detroit’s homicide rate rose 1.8 percent last year. The 2002 homicide rate in the District was a 12.9 percent increase over the 2001 figure. In similar-sized cities, homicides declined 0.2 percent last year.
According to the statistics, violent crime in the District dropped 0.9 percent last year, compared with a 4.1 percent decline for similar-sized cities. Nationwide, violent crime was down 1.4 percent.
But homicides continue to be a problem. The District has recorded 112 killings this year as of yesterday, compared with 102 this time last year.
According to the Metropolitan Police Department and the UCR data, overall crime is down from when Chief Ramsey took over.
There were 301 homicides in 1997, the year before Chief Ramsey arrived, compared with 262 in 2002. In 1997, there were 5,688 cases of aggravated assault and 4,854 in 2002. There were 4,499 robberies in 1997 and 3,731 in 2002.
“I wish it was lower, but the bottom line is that crime in the District is lower now than it was a few years ago,” Chief Ramsey said.