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Drop in Violent Crime in D.C. Area and Some Other Major Cities Puzzles Experts

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By Allison Klein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 20, 2009

Violent crime has plummeted in the Washington area and in major cities across the country, a trend criminologists describe as baffling and unexpected.

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The District, New York and Los Angeles are on track for fewer killings this year than in any other year in at least four decades. Boston, San Francisco, Minneapolis and other cities are also seeing notable reductions in homicides.

"Experts did not see this coming at all," said Andrew Karmen, a criminologist and professor of sociology at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.

In the District and Prince George's County, homicides are down about 17 percent this year.

Criminologists have different theories about why crime is down so much, although many agree that the common belief that crime is connected to the economy is false.

Whatever the cause, police across the region are taking credit for the drop.

"Everybody wants to beat us up when it goes up, so we'll take credit for it when it goes down," D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier said.

She said police are able to target specific locations or types of crime and policing is so high-tech that investigators are analyzing crime minute-by-minute and have greater ability to attack crime before it happens.

In Prince George's, for example, the department's top commanders get mobile phone updates on crimes and 911 calls every 15 minutes.

In New York, when someone is killed, police send a mobile data center to a neighborhood, allowing police on the scene to listen to 911 calls and immediately search databases that list the names of everyone in a certain building who is on parole.

In the District, the department creates a weekly "Go-Go report," which details where and when home-grown bands are playing, because go-go concerts often bring together rival gangs, causing violence, Lanier said. There is also a weekly gang report that tells officers which gangs or crews are feuding that week.

Armed with that information, police can better predict where crimes might happen and take measures to prevent them.


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