By Theola Labbé-DeBose
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 2, 2009
The changing neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River, where public housing has given way to new market-rate and subsidized homes, have been the source of more than half of the homicides in the District since the beginning of the year.
Eleven of the 20 killings in the city since January were in communities like historic Anacostia and Congress Heights, places starting to reflect a mix of long-term residents and newcomers drawn to the new development. Last year at this time, there were seven in the area, the 7th Police District.
Police have various theories on each of the deaths -- petty disagreements, spats between lovers settled violently, drug turf wars -- which they say are not related. But police are so concerned about stability in the area that 15 of the 44 cadets who recently graduated from the police academy will head to the police station that serves the 7th Police District.
"I'm happy for the personnel," said 7th District Cmdr. Joel L. Maupin, who has been the commander for five years and said there was only one other time when he received more than a dozen new officers from the academy.
"Eleven murders in two months is astronomical," Maupin said.
The deaths have all occurred in Ward 8, the city's poorest ward. Long known for several open-air drug markets and violent crime, the community has also seen the sparkles of a renaissance. A new Giant supermarket opened to fanfare in 2007, joining the ward's first sit-down restaurant, an IHOP.
The police district has the fourth-highest level of calls for service in the city, nearly 15,000 in a recent three-month period, according to police statistics. The commander attributed that in part to police work that has fostered more trust in the community. Also, newer residents are demanding an increased police presence.
Residents are concerned that the killings are taking place outside well-known neighborhood "hot spots."
"We have two trouble areas, but these homicides didn't really take place in our normal homicide areas where we have a little drug market and other stuff," said Mary Cuthbert, who has lived in Congress Heights for 40 years and has been active in police-citizen issues. "That's why I'm so surprised about it."
So far there have been arrests in four of the 11 homicides.
Maupin said more police from specialized units such as narcotics and operations have been deployed in an effort to arrest more suspects. He also has added some traffic safety checkpoints to add to the visible presence of police.
"We want to let the citizens know that we're out there, and for the bad elements to know, too, that if they're out there and they do something, they may be stopped, they may be challenged," Maupin said. "We want to make arrests in these homicides as soon as possible."
More help is on the way. At a police academy graduation ceremony last month, Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier told the rookie officers that they had an important role to play in getting citizens to trust them. She said that they had to earn respect; it wouldn't flow automatically from wearing the uniform.
Police staffing can be a sensitive issue with residents. Lanier works with a team to decide where to assign each graduating police officer and has the final say.
Lanier said she assigns graduating officers by such weighing factors as response times, number of calls for service and crime statistics. The department standard is to respond in less than seven minutes.
The rise in homicides is something of an about-face. Last year, there was a 22 percent decline in homicides in the 7th District, the largest in the city, Lanier said. But starting at the end of the year, Lanier said, she saw an upward trend of more calls for service, and the response time of officers began creeping higher.
"There's been so much development in 7D. Everywhere you have a new development -- they really needed the officers," Lanier said. "I'm just trying to readjust to keep things maintained."
Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) said he supports the chief's efforts. He called the rise in homicides "extremely troubling."
"All we want is to solve them quickly, and hopefully for the last 10 months of the year, the 7th District will be much more quiet," he said.
Jenny Alvaranga is one of the 15 new officers assigned to the 7th District and was reviewing her assignment book recently, with instructions on when to report for duty.
"I'm happy to learn from the veteran officers and hoping to serve the community," she said.
Of the recent violence, she added, "With community policing, hopefully we'll be able to make a difference."