The Post’s D.C. homicides investigation: Eight questions

October 13, 2012

The Washington Post looked at the 2,294 homicides that occurred in the District between 2000 and 2011 to determine what ultimately happened to each ensuing case. The newspaper found that less than a third resulted in someone being convicted of murder or manslaughter, although the rate has improved slightly in recent years.

The Washington Post has put together a detailed database tracking homicides in the District from the streets to the courthouse. Why don’t the authorities do this?

You’ve seen “Law and Order.” It’s a split system. The police are concerned with tracking arrests, not convictions. The prosecutors are concerned with tracking convictions, not arrests. No one puts together the complete picture.

If you see a body on the street or read about a killing, what is the chance that someone will be convicted of murder or manslaughter?

Probably less than 50 percent.

This interactive map has details about 2,294 homicides that occurred between 2000 and 2011 in the District of Columbia. Find the killings in your neighborhood, follow the trends over time, and learn how the victims died and what happened to their cases.

Why is it so hard to get a conviction?

Homicides are hard to solve and prosecute without witnesses coming forward. But some in the community consider helping the police to be snitching. Also, witnesses have been executed. That can have a chilling effect.

We are living in a golden age of crime reduction. Yet murders remain tough to solve. How many unsolved killings are there in the District since 2000?

More than 1,000.

Why is that?

We have a culture in some neighborhoods that encourages people not to turn to the police if someone is killed. Instead, these people exact street justice. It’s a retaliation culture — more than 300 of these killings are classified as retaliatory in police records.

What was one of the most perplexing things discovered during the project?

D.C. police's 94 percent homicide closure rate explained

There are more than 350 killings where the motive is classified as unknown. You have a murder and nobody seems to know why.

How are people killed — guns, knives, clubs?

Out of 2,294 total killings, there were 1,804 shootings, 246 stabbings and 163 bludgeonings, as well as death from a variety of other means, including drowning and poisoning. Homicides that occurred in domestic situations had a higher percentage of stabbings. In those cases, there were 57 stabbings to 55 shootings.

What kind of people get murdered?

Most are young black males. Nearly half — 1,028 — were between the ages of 18 and 29. The oldest victim was 96. Several of the victims were infants. Forty-three of the victims were 70 or older.

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