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Killings In D.C. Up After Long Dip

Outreach worker Trayon White, left, with James Wood, 16, whom he mentors, knew five of last year's slaying victims. "You get numb to it," White says.
Outreach worker Trayon White, left, with James Wood, 16, whom he mentors, knew five of last year's slaying victims. "You get numb to it," White says. (By Nikki Kahn -- The Washington Post)
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Thanks to a technology known as ShotSpotter, police have a better handle on how much gunfire is taking place in the 7th District -- and the totals suggest that the death toll could have been much greater. ShotSpotter, which senses the sound of gunfire, recorded roughly 2,500 gunshots -- nearly 50 a week -- in the 7th District during the past year, officials said.

Police plan to expand the ShotSpotter program to other districts in 2008.

Citywide, about 77 percent of the year's homicide victims were killed by gunfire. Arguments -- about women, respect, turf and other matters -- accounted for 44 slayings, police said. Twenty-five people died in robberies, and 20 more in drug-related slayings. As in previous years, more than 80 percent of the victims were black males. Census figures show that black males make up roughly 25 percent of the city's population.

The youngest gunshot victim was 4-year-old Darius Branch, who was fatally shot along with his mother Oct. 25 in their Southeast Washington apartment. The suspected gunman was slain a few weeks later; Darius's father, Darius McKeever, is charged with killing the man, Raymond Carpenter.

Detectives arrested 129 people on murder charges last year and closed 70 percent of their cases, said Inspector Rodney Parks, head of the department's violent crimes division.

In a statement issued last night, Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier called the closure rate the highest in 10 years. She said many cases have been closed based on calls from residents and anonymous calls to a tip line. "More and more," she said, people are no longer willing to tolerate criminals in their communities.

Earlier, Lanier said the rapid changes taking place in many neighborhoods could be having deadly consequences. She said it is crucial for police to be aware of "social change" indicators, such as shifts in housing patterns and school attendance.

For example, she said, some public housing complexes are being torn down, pushing residents with housing vouchers to other parts of the city. In some cases, young people have moved to places where they had earlier been "beefing with" the people who live there, the chief said.

"People are being vouchered from one place to another, from one neighborhood to another. Same thing with the schools," Lanier said. "I have to be on top of which people are where, which children are going to which schools. We have to know those associations."

Lanier, a veteran commander picked to lead the force by Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) a year ago, has tried a mix of strategies. Her signature effort was the new program "All Hands on Deck," which put most available officers on the streets for targeted two- or three-day periods. She rearranged officers' schedules so she generally avoided paying overtime.

Still, shootings and other nonfatal gun crimes increased about 7 percent from 2006 to 2007, and armed robberies rose about 24 percent, preliminary data show.

In Northwest Washington, the Girard Street corridor has been especially troublesome. Four people were shot there on Halloween, even though a police officer was stationed a block away, and a 13-year-old was slain June 2.

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