Killings and Robberies Increase

Officers outside a Great Falls home where three people were shot to death in December. Homicides in Fairfax County rose from 8 in 2004 to 20 in 2005. Across the region, homicides increased by about 10 percent.
Officers outside a Great Falls home where three people were shot to death in December. Homicides in Fairfax County rose from 8 in 2004 to 20 in 2005. Across the region, homicides increased by about 10 percent. (By Michel Du Cille -- The Washington Post)
By Ian Shapira
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 27, 2006

The total number of major crimes in the Washington region hardly fluctuated between 2004 and 2005, but homicides, robberies and rapes increased, according to a recently released report on crime.

The report, prepared by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, shows that from 2004 to 2005, the number of crimes stayed nearly flat, dipping just slightly from 160,380 incidents to 160,079 in the area that includes Northern Virginia; the District; and Maryland communities in Prince George's, Montgomery and Frederick counties. But homicides increased by about 10 percent, robberies jumped nearly 19 percent and rapes went up almost 4 percent.

Law enforcement and public safety officials in the Washington area said that pinpointing the reasons that certain crimes fluctuate or become trends is difficult. But many crimes, especially robberies, are increasing because of a surge in development and population, a side effect of Washington's economic growth, the officials said.

"Law enforcement is swimming against a strong tide and a strong economy," said David Robertson, executive director of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, a nonprofit association based in the District. "When you have communities that are growing in population, that means you're growing in population of criminals, too."

Among the region's largest jurisdictions, Fairfax saw the biggest percentage increase in homicides; the number of killings in the county rose from 8 in 2004 to 20 in 2005. In Prince William, homicides climbed from 6 in 2004 to 13 in 2005. In Maryland, homicides increased in Prince George's from 134 in 2004 to 152 in 2005 but stayed mostly level in Montgomery, rising from 18 to 19. The number of homicides in the District also remained fairly flat, declining from 198 to 195.

But many police departments said they are paying more attention to robberies, which increased across the region, with the exception of Arlington, Fairfax and Frederick counties and the city of Fairfax.

In Montgomery County, for example, robberies -- especially commercial robberies -- increased 33 percent from 2004 to 2005, prompting the police department to enlarge its robbery unit and deploy more officers in areas such as Wheaton, Silver Spring and Gaithersburg, according to police spokeswoman Lucille Baur. The department is creating a team of officers to work in any part of the county that experiences sharp increases in certain felonies.

"We have also worked with owners of commercial establishments to talk about the importance of alarm systems and video surveillance," said Baur, who added that robberies have continued to rise this year.

The report shows that the incidence of major crimes increased in the Maryland suburbs but declined in Northern Virginia and the District.

(The council's report does not include data from Howard, Anne Arundel, Charles, St. Mary's or Calvert counties in Maryland, because those jurisdictions are not part of the association, but they nonetheless are widely considered to be part of the Washington area.)

In Northern Virginia, for instance, crime declined by about 3.8 percent, from 42,968 incidents in 2004 to 41,316 in 2005; in the District, crime dipped less than 1 percent, from 33,171 incidents to 32,916.

In the Maryland suburbs, crime rose from 80,280 incidents in 2004 to 81,464 incidents in 2005. That increase, about 1.5 percent, was attributed mainly to shootings, robberies and a surge in gang violence in Prince George's and Montgomery counties and in the city of Gaithersburg.

Contributing to the growth in crime, law enforcement officials said, are the large numbers of homes being built and the new businesses opening in outer counties and recently developed parts of inner counties.

Loudoun County, for instance, one of the fastest-growing counties in the country, saw a 4.6 percent rise in crime, especially larcenies. In bulging exurbs such as Loudoun and Prince William, law enforcement authorities have reported that homes under construction are a lure for looters.

"Sometimes, the construction supplies are not secured. They are inviting targets for thieves," said Charlie T. Deane, the police chief in Prince William County, which saw a 2.1 percent reduction in crime despite steady population growth.

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