District, Prince George's report continuing decline in number of homicides

By Allison Klein and Clarence Williams
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, December 31, 2010; 10:49 PM

Killings declined last year in the District and Prince George's County, continuing a trend that has brought the number of homicides in the region's two highest-crime jurisdictions to their lowest levels in years.

The decline comes as some major U.S. cities saw increases in slayings in 2010. While homicides increased in New York and Boston, the 131 killings in the District last year represented a 9 percent decrease from 2009.

Gun assaults in the District dropped by 14 percent, and armed robberies fell 21 percent, according to police data. But some property crimes were up across the city as burglaries rose and thieves took advantage of the growing prevalence of smartphones and other electronic devices.

Prince George's had 96 killings, and recorded a 4 percent drop in both homicides and robberies. Outside Prince George's County, the number of killings in most Washington suburbs remained near 2009 levels, increasing slightly in Fairfax and Montgomery counties and decreasing in Prince William County and Alexandria. Prince George's and the District account for more than 80 percent of the Washington area's deadly violence.

Although Washington reached its lowest homicide count in more than four decades last year, D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier did not meet her goal of fewer than 100 homicides. D.C. still has a higher homicide rate than many areas, with about 22 slayings for every 100,000 residents, compared with about 11.5 in Prince George's and about 6 in New York City. In Montgomery and Fairfax, the rate is less than 2.

Sex assaults are also a concern in the District, with first- and second-degree assaults increasing 41 percent collectively, according to an internal department report.

Lanier calls the figures misleading, saying the number of first-degree sex assaults of adults, commonly known as rape, have increased about 3 percent.

D.C. police were also troubled by an increase in non-gun assaults and the proportion of particularly violent acts, such as robberies and carjackings, committed by teenagers. Juveniles accounted for 7 percent of overall arrests, but 46 percent of arrests for robberies and carjackings in the District.

"We're failing when it comes to juvenile violence," Lanier said.

Lanier said she and Mayor-elect Vincent C. Gray (D) have agreed that police need to work closely with law enforcement and social service agencies that deal with at-risk youth to fight juvenile crime.

The department is still working to shed the District's reputation from the 1980s and early 1990s, when the city had more than 400 slayings annually and was known as the country's "murder capital."

"I've been trying to chip, chip, chip away at that image," Lanier said.

She attributed last year's decrease in homicides to the department's relationships with community members, as well as technology that allows street officers to have vital information - such as pictures and warrants - at their fingertips while they are out on their beats.

Over the past four years, as homicides have dropped about 20 percent in the District, police have moved away from tactics such as targeting crime hot spots and focused instead on gang members and other known offenders.

"You can't just throw cops into geography," Lanier said. "You have to look at who is committing these crimes. It's the same small group of people who are wreaking havoc."

Still, some areas of the city are more troubled than others. Killings are up about 8 percent in the 7th Police District east of the Anacostia River; they're down about 30 percent in the 5th district, which includes the Trinidad neighborhood in Northeast.

In Prince George's, crime has fallen since 2005, when police reported the county's highest-ever homicide numbers and an alarming number of carjackings.

Crime has gone down in part because the county has a more aggressive anti-gang initiative, which includes a "Top Ten" list of offenders. When a known gang member is arrested, said Maj. Andy Ellis, commander of the public affairs division, police look at that person's associates to see whether related crimes were also committed.

Police are also working closely with the U.S. attorney's office, enabling authorities to bring the maximum charges against criminals, Ellis said.

In Fairfax, there were 16 slayings, including the death of 2-year-old Angelyn Ogdoc after allegedly being dropped over a railing; her grandmother, Carmela Dela Rosa, has been charged with murder.

In Montgomery, there were 17 homicides, including the slayings of middle school principal Brian Betts and American University professor Sue Ann Marcum.

After killings, Montgomery police say, the most serious issue in the county is an uptick in violence in the Briggs Chaney area, which had the county's largest share of shootings, robberies and burglaries last year, said Assistant Police Chief Wayne Jerman.

"There's been a marked increase in serious crimes there," Jerman said. "It's very concerning for everyone."

Some property crimes have been stubborn across the District. Thefts of iPhones and other smartphones more than doubled from 2009 to last year. Thieves sometimes swiped them from the ears of unsuspecting victims.

In Prince George's, home burglaries were up about 2 percent. Montgomery and Fairfax officials declined to release countywide crime data other than for homicides.

Burglaries in the District were up 14 percent, and the increases were significantly greater in three areas as of mid-December: 28 percent in Capitol Hill and its surrounding areas; 26 percent in Trinidad and its adjoining neighborhoods; and 26 percent east of the river, in neighborhoods such as Anacostia.

Police think that the recent surge is largely a result of criminals moving to burglary as a new revenue source. Some drug dealers are changing - or at least adding - burglary to their illicit activities, police said.

"You don't see folks standing out on corners like they used to. . . . [Burglary] is easier than standing on a corner selling dope," D.C. Assistant Chief of Police Alfred Durham said.

Just a few weeks ago, Earl Rodriguez joined his Anacostia neighbors for an early morning rally to call attention to an alarming spate of burglaries that has rocked their community.

"I've never seen it this bad," said Rodriguez, an Army staff sergeant. Just before Christmas, eight days after the rally, bold midday thieves took two flat-screen televisions, a laptop and a pair of small fans while ransacking his home on Pleasant Street SE.

Many of the burglaries occur when no one is at home, Durham said. In some cases, the burglars walked out with 40- to 50-inch televisions and other electronics.

"The bandits know that folks are out spending money," Durham said.

Police have made more than 78 arrests in 90 burglary cases in recent weeks, he said. Often, police can close two or three cases with one arrest.

In the historic Anacostia area, several victims are recent residents who have fixed up formerly vacant homes. Their presence has encouraged new businesses to open, but they believe it has also attracted criminals in search of homes to rob.

"The criminals, think we're easy targets: We're professional people who could live anywhere in the city," said Rodriguez, 47. "These used to be vacant houses and homes . . . criminals are aware of it."

kleinallison@washpost.com williamsc@washpost.com

Staff writers Matt Zapatosky, Dan Morse, Tom Jackman, Chris L. Jenkins and Caitlin Gibson contributed to this report.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company