- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 1, 2004

The District recorded its first homicide of 2004 less than six hours into the new year and its second one before 9 a.m. yesterday, Metropolitan Police said.

Police said Javon Gaskins, 16, of the District, was shot and killed while sitting in the back seat of a car in Southeast. The shooting occurred at about 5:45 a.m., when a gunman walked up to the car and opened fire on the three persons inside.

About three hours later, at 8:30 a.m., a man walking his dog found a body in a field in the 1800 block of Morris Road SE. The dead man had been shot several times. Police have not disclosed his identity.

The killings came just hours after the District closed the books on 2003, which saw a reduction in homicides. A killing on Wednesday night pushed the year-end total for 2003 to 247, down from 262 killings in 2002.

Last year’s homicide tallies were lower than 2002’s in virtually every jurisdiction of the metropolitan area. Prince George’s, Montgomery, Fairfax and Arlington counties all reported lower homicide totals.

Prince George’s County, which saw a decrease in killings from 137 in 2002 to 128 last year, also recorded its first homicide of the new year yesterday.

Police said a man walking his dog at about 10:40 a.m., in the 2000 block of North Anvil Lane in Oxon Hill discovered the body of a black male in a grassy area near the roadway. Police said the man, who has not been identified, had been shot in the upper body.

Prince George’s County Police spokesman Cpl. Joe Merkel said it was unclear when the man had been shot.

Metropolitan Police Chief Charles H. 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.

Under the initiative, 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. Chief Ramsey said 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 whether escalating crime levels necessitate suspending the clause again.

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.

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, up from 252 in 2002. Preliminary figures from Detroit showed 407 killings through last week, up from 402 in 2002.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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