Correction to This Article
A Jan. 1 article incorrectly said that Alexandria¿s homicide count for 2006 included the February shooting of Aaron Brown, 18, by an off-duty city police officer outside a pancake house. That shooting was not counted as part of Alexandria¿s homicide total for the year. Prosecutors decided that the officer¿s actions were reasonable and that he would not be criminally charged.

Washington Region's Homicides Fall Sharply

By Allison Klein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 1, 2007

Homicides dropped sharply in the Washington region in 2006, with the District reaching a 21-year low and Prince George's County showing a significant decrease after an alarming year of bloodshed.

The District recorded 167 killings -- a 15 percent drop from the 196 slayings in 2005. Prince George's had 134 killings last year, compared with a record 169 in 2005.

Overall, 417 homicides occurred in the Washington area last year, down by about 10 percent from 2005, when there were 462 killings. About half of the cases have been solved.

The decline comes as violence rises nationwide. Reports of homicides, assaults and other violent offenses rose by nearly 4 percent in the first six months of 2006, compared with the same period in 2005, according to a recent FBI report.

Crime analysts said the Washington area's drop most likely is tied to a variety of factors, including economic gentrification, population shifts, more effective policing strategies and the jailing of violent predators. They also warned that crime is still quite high in some parts of the region.

The national rate of killings for mid-size cities the size of Washington is about 14 per 100,000 people, according to FBI statistics. The rates of the region's urban areas are higher: 29 per 100,000 in the District and 15 per 100,000 in Prince George's.

"It's always good news when it's down," said Brian Forst, a professor of criminal justice at American University. "But down from very high does not mean low."

A Washington Post count combines preliminary statistics from municipal, state and county police departments within the boundaries of a county. The totals showed 202 homicides in eight Maryland counties, down from 217 the previous year, and 48 in five Virginia jurisdictions, down from 49 in 2005. The District had 196 homicides in 2005.

Last year marked the third consecutive year that the District has recorded fewer than 200 homicides -- a far cry from the bloodshed of the late 1980s and early 1990s, during the crack cocaine epidemic; in 1991, the city had 489 killings. The number of homicides last year is the second lowest since 1966.

"For a change, we're going against the trend in a positive way," said Charles H. Ramsey, who stepped down last week after nearly nine years as D.C. police chief.

Ramsey attributed some of the drop to better officer deployment, the meticulous tracking of crime and the department's efforts to keep closer tabs on ex-offenders.

Eric H. Holder Jr., a former U.S. attorney who became second in command at the Justice Department, said some of the community-based programs that were launched in the District in the 1990s are paying dividends.

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