A MORBID end-of-year ritual for local law enforcement officials is the annual tally of people murdered. That 2012 is likely to see historic lows in homicides for the District of Columbia as well as neighboring Prince George’s County is clearly welcome news. But as local officials are right to stress, the numbers don’t lessen the pain of the lives lost or the need to redouble efforts against crime.
“I still think about [the] families who have lost somebody. So it’s certainly not, it’s not victory. But it feels like a good milestone for us. I think we passed the tipping point,” D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier told Homicide Watch D.C. of the prospect that the District would have fewer than 100 homicides this year. As of Thursday, 86 slayings had been reported, which is 20 percent lower than last year at this time; the figure would place Washington on a trajectory to have the lowest number of homicides since 1963. In Prince George’s, there were 63 homicides as of Thursday, down from 95 in 2011 and a likely 25-year low.
The numbers are a far cry from the awful days of the 1990s, when crack cocaine fueled an epidemic of gun violence in the District that spilled over in Prince George’s. Chief Lanier told us there were 479 killings the year she joined the force in the early 1990s and it was simply “unimaginable” then that there could be a time when slayings would not be in triple digits. Many factors influence the crime rate, and there’s been a downward trend in violent crime nationwide, but it’s also apparent that local officials have employed successful strategies.
For the District that came through a conscious decision in 2007, when Ms. Lanier was named police chief by then-Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, to invest in technology and to be more analytical and proactive in deploying resources. Consider, for example, how the department focused its efforts on illegal weapons and gangs. That police have had success in combating the retaliatory violence that accompanies gangs is born out by statistics showing a sharp decline in the number of victims under the age of 18 — 20 in 2008 compared to three this year. Prince George’s officials attributed some of their success to an initiative started by County Executive Rushern L. Baker III that targets specific neighborhoods for more law enforcement and community improvements.
Even as the two jurisdictions marked the success of crime-fighting efforts, there were grim reminders of the work that still needs to be done. An hour before the Dec. 19 announcement of the drop in Prince George’s homicides, a Seat Pleasant man was fatally shot, and the 2-year-old son he was holding was injured. On Christmas Eve, a young man who had just moved to Capitol Hill for the excitement of city life was killed in an apparent robbery. Nicoh Mayhew was 25; Jason Anthony Emma was 28; each was more than a number.