- The Washington Times - Monday, February 23, 2009

Police appear to be on the verge of closing the District’s most high-profile murder case in a decade, but more than 500 deaths since Chandra Levy was killed in 2001 remain unsolved, raising concerns about police resources and priorities.

Among the biggest questions is when the Metropolitan Police Department will have its own crime lab, which would allow investigators to pool DNA evidence for thousands of unsolved homicides and rapes dating back to the 1960s.

The department uses the FBI Research Laboratory in Quantico, Va., to examine DNA evidence.

“It’s unacceptable,” said D.C. police union chief Kristopher Baumann. “Until we have a crime lab, we’re completely at the mercy of the FBI. That’s not the way things should be done.”

On Sunday, the department Web site listed 549 unsolved homicides since 2001, the same year Miss Levy went missing from her Dupont Circle apartment.

The lab is scheduled to be built by 2011, and officials said that until then, too many crimes will continue to remain unsolved.

“Unless we’re working a high-profile case, like a Chandra Levy, we have to wait for the FBI to complete their analysis, and so we’re essentially put on the back burner. That’s unacceptable,” Mr. Baumann said.

The recent break in the Levy case reportedly is the result of possible DNA evidence connecting Igmar Guandique, 27, a Salvadoran immigrant, to the homicide. Miss Levy, 24, had just completed an internship with the Federal Bureau of Prisons before she vanished on May, 1, 2001.

Mr. Guandique was arrested two months later for attacking two women at Rock Creek Park, where Miss Levy’s remains were found about a year later. He is now serving a federal sentence for the attacks in Victorville Correctional Complex, in Adelanto, Calif.

City police did not return calls Sunday about whether an official arrest in the case had been made.

The case helped to ruin the political career of former Rep. Gary Condit, California Democrat, on whom police focused their attention after he admitted having an affair with Miss Levy.

Of the 549 unsolved homicides in the city, roughly 200 occurred in the Southeast neighborhood, beyond the scope of the media that focused on the part of Capitol Hill where Mr. Condit worked; Adams Morgan, where he had an apartment; and other affluent parts of the District

D.C. Council member Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat, said Sunday that he is unsure whether police attention on the Levy case diverted resources from other cases but said it shifted the focus of local authorities from where it might have been otherwise.

“This case was the focus of international attention, and in that environment the ‘local’ aspect was forced to pour what they have into it. That’s to be expected and it is unfortunate,” he said.

Even without an official crime lab, the District still has a formidable homicide closure rate, almost 70 percent by the end of 2007.

By comparison, the national average of cleared murder and non-negligent-manslaughter cases is 61.2 percent, according to the FBI. In cities with populations of more than 1 million, the clearance rate is 62.9 percent. For cities with just more than 500,000 residents, such as the District, the average rate is 54.6 percent.

Mr. Graham said creating the crime lab is long overdue.

“It’s a subject that has been talked about forever, and so we really need to get that up and running” he said.

Council member Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat and chairman of the council’s Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary, said the Levy case had been an “embarrassment” for the D.C. police, and he said that if an arrest does come “it would be nice to close this chapter.”

Beyond focusing too much on Mr. Condit, the department also failed to quickly find Miss Levy’s body and reportedly did not interview victims in the two similar cases.

“Now instead of a black eye, this is a gold star for the department,” Mr. Mendelson said.

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