Crime Shows Signs of Waning in D.C. Region

By Kirstin Downey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 29, 2007

The streets may be getting a bit safer.

The number of homicides in the Washington area fell by almost 12 percent last year, and car thefts dropped almost 15 percent, according to a county-by-county analysis by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

The report found that serious crime in the region is on the decline.

In 2005, 425 people were killed, compared with 375 in 2006, according to the report. About 29,800 cars were stolen in 2005; the number was about 25,400 in 2006.

J. Thomas Manger, Montgomery County's police chief and chairman of the council's Police Chiefs Committee, said that improved communication and information-sharing among law enforcement agencies led to the decline.

Manger, the former Fairfax County police chief, also cited a sharp drop in homicides and vehicle thefts in Prince George's County, which registered declines of 22 percent and 26 percent, respectively.

Prince George's Police Chief Melvin C. High credited "hard work" and increased cooperation from county residents in apprehending suspects.

Despite the improvements, Prince George's and the District of Columbia continue to account for most of the homicides in the area, according to the report.

There were 169 homicides in the District in 2006, compared with 195 the previous year. In Prince George's, there were 119, down from 152. The 288 homicides in those two places last year accounted for about three-quarters of the region's total.

Some places, including Bowie, Gaithersburg, Greenbelt and Frederick County in Maryland, and Fairfax City, Loudoun County and Manassas in Virginia, had one or two in the entire year. College Park in Maryland and Falls Church and Manassas Park in Virginia had none.

In the jurisdictions with few homicides, the incidents tend to be crimes of passion that attract local attention because they are relatively rare.

In Loudoun, where there were no homicides in the first nine months of 2006, residents were shocked by a double slaying and suicide that occurred outside a busy Sterling Park strip mall in October, when a 22-year-old man killed a 22-year-old woman and a 24-year-old man, then killed himself. The Loudoun County Sheriff's Office determined that the shooter was the woman's former boyfriend, acting in a jealous rage.

Communication across jurisdictions is key to solving crimes quickly, according to the report. For example, Christopher T. Broady, who killed a 22-year-old District man in Manassas last year, was apprehended by police in Danville but was mistakenly released and then re-apprehended in Fairfax County. He was convicted in Prince William County in May and will spend 22 years in jail.

The report cited one disturbing trend in regional crime. Group robberies, in which four or more suspects prey on a lone victim, are on the rise.

"Many of these crimes happen at night when there is an opportunity to attack victims walking by themselves on the street," Manger said.

One such crime occurred when British activist Alan Senitt, 27, was fatally slashed in a robbery in Georgetown in July 2006. Four suspects, all District residents, were arrested. A rash of similar attacks on the Mall frightened or injured tourists.

Overall, violent crimes and crimes against property fell 4 percent, according to the report, which noted that jurisdictions compile statistics differently and that some governments do not collect such information.

The jurisdictions included in the report are the District; in Maryland, Montgomery and Frederick counties and the cities of Bowie, College Park, Frederick, Gaithersburg, Greenbelt, Rockville and Takoma Park; and, in Virginia, Arlington, Fairfax, Fauquier, Loudoun and Prince William counties, and the cities of Alexandria, Fairfax, Falls Church, Manassas and Manassas Park. Also contributing figures were park, airport and Metro police, among other government agencies.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company