- The Washington Times - Monday, November 13, 2006

The motive for most homicides in the District are arguments and petty disputes over perceived slights, accounting for more killings last year than robberies, domestic disputes, gang activity and drug wars combined, according to the Metropolitan Police Department.

“It’s a pretty big deal among some people,” said Chief Charles H. Ramsey. “A guy gets upset — you know, ‘You’re disrespecting me.’ Or they don’t like the way you’re looking at them. You’d be surprised at how many silly homicides we see.”

The police department last year attributed 57 of the city’s 196 killings to arguments, compared with 50 such killings among the city’s 198 in 2004, according to a recently released department report tracking homicide information from 2001 to 2005.

During those five years, 1,126 persons were killed in the District, 901 of them fatally shot. The report also states that about 1,058 of the homicide victims were black, about 36 were Hispanic and about 32 were white.

Arguments have accounted for a steady increase in the percentage of overall killings in the city since 2001, when they were the primary motive in 19 percent of the 232 homicides.

Chief Ramsey said that guns are a big part of the problem.

“The guns make them feel like they’re more powerful,” he said. “They overreact.”

As recently as 2002, drugs were the primary motive in more than one-third of the city’s 262 killings. As a percentage of total homicides, that figure has declined each year, accounting for just 10 percent, or 19 killings, last year.

Chief Ramsey said the decline in homicides attributable to disputes over drugs proves how hard police have worked to eradicate the problem.

The ages of homicide victims have remained fairly consistent. About two-thirds of them each year are 18 to 44.

The report states that in 2005, “nearly all” homicide victims 25 to 34 had a prior-arrest record. The number of juvenile and adult homicides also increase sharply beginning at about 10 p.m., factors that the police chief said he considered when declaring the recent crime emergency, which ended less than two weeks ago.

“I look at numbers and trends every day,” he said. “When you look at these things, you can’t ignore them.”

Other large U.S. cities are reporting a similar trend.

In Milwaukee, where homicides increased from 88 in 2004 to 122 in 2005, the number classified as arguments increased from 17 to 45. That was the largest category of killings, as the number of gang and drug-related slayings decreased, according to the New York Times.

Disputes also made up the largest category in Houston. Homicides increased there 24 percent in 2005, with 113 of 336 related to disputes.

There were 380 homicides in Philadelphia last year, with 208 dispute-related. Drug-related killings, which accounted for about 40 percent of homicides during the early 1990s, accounted for 13 percent, the newspaper reported in February.

The District’s report also states that for three straight years detectives have closed 60 percent of cases, peaking with last year’s closure rate of 61 percent.

So far this year, police have closed 85 homicide cases for a closure rate of 57.4 percent.

There were 148 killings through yesterday. That figure is down 11.4 percent from the 167 killings recorded at that point last year and on pace to end 2006 with 174 killings. That would be the lowest total since 147 killings were recorded in 1985.

In 1997, the year before Chief Ramsey took over the department, there were 301 killings. The highest total during his tenure was 262 in 2002.

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