Sunday, June 27, 2004

The number of homicides in the District has fallen 27 percent, compared with the same period last year, even as the total number of slayings in the suburbs holds steady.

With 88 slayings recorded as of Friday, the District is on pace to finish the year with fewer than 200 killings for the first time since 1986. At this time last year, there had been 121 homicides in the city.

“Obviously, we still have half a year to go and all of the summer, but the numbers are encouraging,” Metropolitan Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey said.

Chief Ramsey credited the drop in part to the Homicide Prevention Project, which combines violent-crimes units, narcotics officers and other personnel to identify offenders in violent neighborhoods.

More aggressive execution of arrest warrants and daily police briefings that track crime “hot spots” also helped prevent violence, the chief said.

The U.S. Justice Department last week announced that the District and 14 other cities, including Baltimore and Richmond, will receive extra help from federal law enforcement to combat violent crime.

The decline in D.C. homicides contrasts with other jurisdictions in the region, where totals are on par with last year’s.

Montgomery County recor-ded 10 killings as of Friday, the same number as at this time last year. Prince George’s County has seen a slight rise in homicides, from 58 at this time last year to 64 so far this year.

Fairfax County recorded five killings, compared with six at this time last year. Arlington County reported one homicide so far, compared with two last year. Alexandria had one homicide at this point last year but has recorded none this year.

In the District, crime is down 11.9 percent across the board through May, preliminary statistics show. Chief Ramsey said he hopes to reduce overall crime by 10 percent and to keep homicides below 200 for the year.

“That was our goal at the beginning of the year but still that’s an awful lot of people to die,” Chief Ramsey said. “So it’s not something to brag about.”

A homicide total below 200 would be a milestone for the District, which in the early 1990s routinely was referred to as the “murder capital of the United States.”

FBI statistics released last year showed the District reclaimed that position in 2002 with a homicide rate of 45.82 per 100,000 residents — a higher rate than any other city in the nation with a population more than 500,000.

But the 262 killings in 2002 and the 248 last year were well below the 482 registered in 1991, when the homicide rate peaked.

D.C. Council member Kathy Patterson, Ward 3 Democrat and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, which oversees the police department, saw a disturbing trend in who is being killed.

“Obviously, it is good news to have these numbers down,” Mrs. Patterson said. “What is not good news is what these numbers are made up of. The number of homicides involving young people has gone up over last year.”

A total of 13 persons younger than 18 have been killed in the city so far this year. Several were high-profile cases:

• Jahkema Princess Hansen, 14, of Northwest, was fatally shot Jan. 23 inside a residence in the 1100 block of First Terrace NW. The girl was believed to have been killed after witnessing a homicide and trying to sell her silence. Police made an arrest in her slaying.

• James Richardson, 17, of Southeast, was fatally shot Feb. 2 inside Ballou High School. The shooting was tied to a long-running feud between two neighborhoods. Another student was arrested in the case.

• Chelsea Danielle Cromartie, 8, of Southeast, was killed May 3 by a stray bullet while watching television inside a relative’s home in Northeast. Two young men who are brothers were arrested in the case.

Mrs. Patterson said she has no plans to move legislation out of her committee to formalize a new contract between the city and Chief Ramsey.

Last July, the D.C. Council authorized an increase in the chief’s annual pay to $175,000, up from the $150,000 he had made since being hired in 1998. But the council voted 7-6 against extending his five-year contract with the city and did not address his package of retirement benefits, which would have provided an annual pension of up to $60,000.

Mrs. Patterson said at the time that Chief Ramsey had done too little to control crime, put too few officers in neighborhoods and failed to improve performance in criminal investigations.

Mrs. Patterson said last July that she would release the legislation after one year if seven council members asked her to do so.

“I’ve heard from no one,” she said last week.

Last year, Chief Ramsey said he would consider quitting if his contract were not approved. In comments last week, he stopped short of saying that.

“It’s not on my mind, but it’s something that needs to get resolved,” he said, adding that “things have a way of working out.”

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