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Homicide totals in 2009 plummet in District, Prince George's

By Allison Klein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 1, 2010; A01

The District and Prince George's County, long considered the region's most violent jurisdictions, logged their lowest homicide totals in years in 2009, with D.C. hitting a 45-year -low.

The number of slayings last year in the District, once known as the murder capital of the United States, was 140, a 25 percent drop from 2008. Prince George's recorded 100 killings, the county's lowest in nine years. Montgomery and Fairfax counties also had significant decreases in homicides in 2009.

But the drop in the District was unprecedented and significant for its size and its scope: Every police district in the city experienced at least a double-digit drop in homicides.

"It's huge," said D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier. "We're making an impact."

The homicide numbers were compiled as of late Thursday night and could go up New Year's Eve, but any such increases are not likely to change the overall trend.

Crime across the country is falling, with FBI statistics from the first half of 2009 showing that homicides dipped 10 percent nationally, compared with the same period in 2008. Although final year-end totals have not been tallied, New York expects to post its fewest homicides since 1963. Philadelphia had a 9 percent decrease, and Chicago had an 11 percent drop.

Despite the widespread decreases, there is no consensus among police officials about why crime went down in 2009, but theories include more focused enforcement, better use of technology and stepped-up intelligence gathering.

It is notable that crime is dropping across the entire region because when violence is tamped down in one area, it often gets pushed to a neighboring jurisdiction.

That did not happen in 2009. Prince George's had its lowest homicide numbers since 2000. Montgomery recorded 13 killings, a drop from 21 in 2008. And Fairfax had 11, compared with 19 in 2008.

Prince George's Police Chief Roberto L. Hylton said the county made a concerted effort to reduce violence. "It's not about luck," he said. "It's really a methodical approach to crime. We're actually applying strategies. We're developing new relationships and partnerships with community groups, and I think that has a lot to do in the way of affecting crime."

In the District, city officials said they have come a long way from the bloodshed of the late 1980s and early 1990s, when street wars over crack cocaine helped fuel more than 400 slayings annually. The violence has been shrinking steadily since and took its most dramatic dive in 2009.

The 2nd Police District, which includes Dupont Circle, Georgetown and Cleveland Park, did not have any slayings in the past year.

Lanier attributed the drop in the District to two overall strategies: targeting violent repeat offenders and strengthening ties in the community so detectives could get information quickly to make arrests.

Police maintain databases of gang members and their affiliations, so if violence flares up in a neighborhood, officers are deployed to a rival neighborhood to head off retaliation.

Every morning, Lanier and members of her top staff receive e-mails detailing which gangs are feuding, which students are fighting in schools and which locations have had reports of gunfire. Every other week, they get a "go-go report" of where bands are playing because authorities say the concerts often bring together feuding gangs.

Homicide detectives closed about 75 percent of their cases last year, far surpassing previous years and the national average.

"We are sending a message to the bad guys," Lanier said. "Homicides occur, and two days later we arrest the guy. Sooner or later, the bad guys are going to get the message."

D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), head of the public safety and judiciary committee, said that Lanier should get some credit for the decreasing crime but that the homicide rate is still elevated. Last year, the District had 23 killings per 100,000 people. In safer big cities, such as New York, the rate is at an all-time low: six per 100,000.

"Another way of looking at the good news is the rate is too high compared to other cities," Mendelson said. "If we were to have the same rate as New York City, we would have less than 40 a year."

But Lanier and others pointed to a significant drop in 2009 in homicides in the 7th Police District, the southernmost area east of the Anacostia River, which historically has had stubborn crime issues. Although the area, which includes the neighborhoods of Barry Farm, Congress Park and Congress Heights, had the highest number of killings last year, with 40, that was a 15 percent drop from 2008.

The year was not without trouble for police. There were some high-profile shootings, such as the November killing of 9-year-old Oscar Fuentes, who was shot through the front door of his apartment in Columbia Heights. And security officer Stephen T. Johns was killed in June, allegedly by a white supremacist during lunch hour at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Other setbacks for D.C. police included a Dec. 1 fatal robbery that resulted in one of the department's own, Officer Reginald Jones, being charged in the homicide. And a court ruled illegal Lanier's strategy of using military-style checkpoints to screen motorists in the Trinidad neighborhood during a spate of violence in 2008.

In Virginia, Prince William County police found developmentally disabled Alexis "Lexie" Agyepong-Glover, 13, dead in a creek near Woodbridge in January. Police discovered that her mother, Alfreedia Gregg-Glover, had left the girl in the creek for days before she died.

In Maryland in April, Frederick police said Christopher A. Wood, 34, killed his family: Francie Billotti-Wood, 33, a Sunday school teacher, and their three children, ages 5, 4 and 2, before killing himself.

"Things are not always going to go perfectly," Lanier said. "There are human beings involved, and human beings are fallible, myself included."

Staff writers Maria Glod, Dan Morse and Matt Zapotosky contributed to this report.

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