The District finished 2010 with 131 homicides — a 9 percent reduction from 2009 and the lowest number of killings in the nation’s capital since 1963.
The drop, from 143 killings, was the second straight decline and the seventh time in the last 10 years that the city once referred to as the “murder capital” of the U.S. recorded fewer than 200 homicides.
Around the region, the results were mixed.
Prince George’s County police reported 90 homicides, down from 99 in 2009. That total was the lowest since the county, which routinely finishes behind the District in the region in homicides, recorded 67 killings in 2000. It also comes just five years after the county set a record with 173 killings in 2005.
Montgomery County saw an increase from 13 homicides in 2009 to 17 last year. But that number was below the 21 recorded in 2008 and the 19 seen in 2007. Fairfax County also recorded a modest increase, from 14 killings in 2009 to 16 last year, while Arlington County recorded one killing last year, compared with two in 2009.
For the District, the continued declines in homicides during this decade to nearly half-century lows are impressive. Less than 20 years ago, the city recorded 482 killings, as turf wars among gangs dealing drugs, particularly crack cocaine, fueled homicide rates more than three times their current levels.
Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier pointed to three reasons for the recent reductions.
First, she said the department has built trust with the community, which is leading to more tips and more cooperation from witnesses. She said a police tip line is recording triple the calls it did three years ago, and the amount of reward money the department has distributed has doubled, meaning people are cooperating with police and prosecutors to identify suspects and get them off the streets.
Second, she said the department has invested heavily in technology. For example, in recent years, police have expanded their network of neighborhood surveillance cameras, employed Shot Spotter technology that recognizes the sound of gunfire and alerts authorities, and just recently installed license-plate recognition sensors that scan the plates of passing cars and compares them to a national database of stolen vehicles.
Third, she said gang intelligence has improved, so police are able to intervene to stem incidents that in recent years had resulted in violent tit-for-tat shooting sprees.
“We can prevent homicides,” she said. “We do prevent homicides. We can’t prevent them all.”
Chief Lanier also said that instead of the “hot-spot policing” of years past that focused on violent neighborhoods, the department has kept a closer tab on violent repeat offenders. Detectives also closed 101 cases, for a closure rate of 77 percent.
Troubling trends remain, however.
The Washington Times reported earlier this year that a study of homicides from Sept. 1, 2009 through Aug. 31 revealed that one in five involved a juvenile in the custody of the city’s troubled Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services as either a suspect or a victim. Among the highest-profile crimes in the District in 2010 were killings committed by wards of the city.
A March shooting spree in which nine people were shot, four of them fatally, after a funeral earlier in the day involved a suspect and a victim who were DYRS wards.
Thirty-one-year-old Neil Godleski was fatally shot and robbed on Aug. 22 as he rode his bicycle shortly after midnight through Sherman Circle in Northwest D.C. after an evening shift at the restaurant where he worked as a waiter.
Eric Foreman, a ward of the city known to police as a gang member, was arrested in connection with the crime.
Asked whether she still thought the city could accomplish her goal of finishing a year with fewer than 100 homicides, Chief Lanier answered: “Yes, and we’re going to do it.”
“I know it’s doable,” she said. “We’re bringing the numbers down — just not fast enough for me. I want it to happen while I’m here.”
Looking forward to 2011, the police chief said her controversial signature initiative, All Hands on Deck, which puts all of the department’s officers on patrol for a handful of pre-selected three-day periods each year, will continue into the Gray administration.
Asked about officer attrition, given the city’s ongoing financial difficulties, Chief Lanier said she thinks that to maintain recent crime reduction, the department will have to begin hiring late this year and early in 2012 to have officers trained by 2013 and 2014, when officers who came on around the hiring bump in 1989 are eligible to retire.
“I do feel confident right now,” she said.