- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 29, 2016

The District has continued to record some of its highest homicide counts in seven years, despite a double-digit decline compared with 2015.

The city tallied 134 homicides as of Dec. 29, compared with 162 last year. The overall crime rate is down 4 percent, with violent crime dropping by 10 percent from 2015.

Mayor Muriel Bowser touted the 17 percent year-to-year decrease in homicides at a recent press conference announcing full deployment of the Metropolitan Police Department’s body-worn camera program.

“It is one of many steps we’ve taken over the past two years — along with a series of innovative services and programs — to build safer and stronger communities and, as a result, we are experiencing reductions in crime across the board,” Miss Bowser said.

The mayor gave a laundry list of initiatives that “are changing the District’s approach to fighting crime,” including expanding mental health and social services, creating a public safety academy and giving rebates to residents who install security cameras outside their buildings.

Deputy Mayor Kevin Donahue, who oversees public safety, said the city has spent significant resources this year to take a “multifaceted approach” to curbing the homicide tally. The city is focusing on getting illegal firearms off the streets; improving its diversion programs for low-level, nonviolent offenders; and implementing job training programs that lead to long-term employment, he said.

“We believe these efforts — in addition to the hard work by the men and women of the Metropolitan Police Department — have contributed to making the District safer,” Mr. Donahue said Thursday.

Meanwhile, the homicide tally in Prince George’s County jumped from 81 last year to 95 as of Thursday. Montgomery County’s homicide count fell from 30 in 2015 to 14. Fairfax County’s increased from 12 homicides in 2015 to 17 this year. Prince William County’s homicide tally doubled from 11 in 2015 to 22 this year. Arlington County reported two homicides last year and one this year.

The District’s statistics, however, don’t tell the whole story. The overall crime rate has decreased since last year, but a broader view shows higher crime levels than in the recent past.

In an August interview with The Washington Times before leaving the Metropolitan Police Department, Chief Cathy L. Lanier called a year-to-date comparison dangerous because a larger data set, such as a five-year span, is more indicative of how crime is trending.

“I always caution year-to-date stats,” Chief Lanier said. “They don’t give you real understanding of where crime is.”

The District’s five-year trend shows higher homicide tallies after a precipitous decline.

The number of homicides dropped to 108 in 2011 and to 88 in 2012. In 2013 and 2014, the numbers rose to 104 and 105, respectively.

In 2015, Miss Bowser’s first year in office, the number ballooned to 162 — the highest level since the 186 in 2008. Police officials attributed the jump to several factors, including repeat offenders and more guns on the streets.

Several other major cities across the country, including Baltimore and Chicago, reported similar spikes in homicide counts.

But Mr. Donahue said the 17 percent decline this year shouldn’t be dismissed. “Any homicide is one too many,” he said.

Homicides counts in Wards 1, 2, 3, 5, 6 and 8 declined this year but increased in Ward 7, which had 38 this year and 32 last year, and Ward 4, which had 14 homicides this year and seven last year.

Assault with a gun also spiked in Ward 4, from 48 in 2015 to 63 this year.

Mr. Donahue expressed concern over the uptick in homicides in Ward 4 but said the statistic is an “outlier” with regard to total crime. The ward has had a 13.6 percent decrease in overall crime and a 20 percent decrease in violent crime.

“We believe the increase in homicides in Ward 4 is largely attributable to the same factors citywide: disputes between individuals that escalate to violence and access to illegal firearm,” he said.

D.C. police have increased community outreach in Ward 4 to identify individuals and families affected by the homicides, Mr. Donahue said.

• Ryan M. McDermott can be reached at rmcdermott@washingtontimes.com.

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