- The Washington Times - Friday, December 30, 2005

The police chiefs in the two area jurisdictions with the highest number of homicides want surveillance cameras to be a key part of their efforts to reduce violent crime.

Prince George’s County Chief Melvin C. High said he hopes to begin using the cameras to help watch crime hot spots in 2006.

The county reported 168 homicides as of yesterday, compared with 148 at the same time last year.

Chief High said the numbers have slowed compared with earlier in the year, citing trends in the past three months.

In recent months, Chief High has adjusted his community policing strategy by putting more patrol officers in areas where violent crimes have been occurring. The department also has increased arrests for weapons and drug charges.

He also noted that the county’s population growth has led to an increase in crime.

D.C. Chief Charles H. Ramsey hopes to convince the D.C. Council that more surveillance cameras could help reduce violent crime.

The District has 19 closed-circuit surveillance cameras, most of them mounted on buildings near the Mall. They operate around the clock during special events, emergencies and heightened terrorism alerts. About a half-dozen portable, motion-sensor cameras monitor alleys and abandoned lots. Critics say the cameras also watch law-abiding residents, which raises privacy issues.

This year, the Metropolitan Police Department tested gunshot-sensing devices in the 7th Police District, but the devices were not effective. Chief Ramsey is working with the manufacturer, ShotSpotter Inc., and the FBI to solve the problems so the devices can be used to help pinpoint the sound of gunshots so police can go to the scene of an incident even before it is reported.

“If we have the right safeguards in place, I think technology can help us in our fight against crime,” he said.

Similar police surveillance cameras in Baltimore have been cited for helping to close murder cases that otherwise would have gone unsolved.

The District’s homicide count stood at 194 yesterday, one fewer than at the same time last year. The 2004 total of 198 marked a 20-year low.

Jeffrey Ian Ross, a criminologist from the University of Baltimore, said the suburbs need to adopt strategies used by the District, including adequate after-school programs and park facilities.

Increasing housing prices in the city have driven young adults to the surrounding suburbs. Local statistics indicate that most violent crimes are committed by 18- to 35-year-old men and are the result of disputes over property or crimes of passion.

Mr. Ross said schools, churches and businesses in the suburbs should provide services to “insulate people from going down the path of crime.”

In Fairfax County, the shooting deaths of four persons by a single suspect on Christmas Day increased the homicide rate to 22 this year, compared with 10 reported for all of 2004. Officials said most of the killings were linked to disputes between acquaintances and that five were domestic-related cases.

Lt. Rich Perez of the Fairfax County Police Department said two of this year’s homicides have been identified as gang related, so police commanders are reviewing statistics to determine how best to address the problem.

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