Deadly violence continues to decline

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By Allison Klein and Clarence Williams
Sunday, January 2, 2011

Killings declined last year in the District and Prince George's, 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, there were 131 last year in the District, a dip of about 10 percent from the previous year.

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

While 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 less than 100 homicides. D.C. still has a rate of killings higher 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.


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