The District of Columbia became the murder capital of the nation during a year when it spent more per person than any state to battle crime, according to a Justice Department report released yesterday.

The District spent about $859 per person in 1988 to fight crime, well over the $218 national average, the report shows. Maryland state and local governments ranked 10th, spending about $236 per person. Virginia spent about $199, putting it 19th on the list.

The figures include money spent in 1988 by local and state governments for police, court and jail services based on surveys conducted by the department's Bureau of Justice Statistics.

That same year Washington became known unofficially as the nation's murder capital when it recorded 369 homicides, the highest per capita for any major U.S. city.

The District also employed more police officers, court officials and prison guards per capita that year than any state, the report shows. The city hired 170 of these workers for every 10,000 residents. Maryland employed 64.9 people; Virginia, 57.1. The national average is 57.7.

But the city's top ranking in the Justice Department study probably says more about the way the survey was conducted than about the correlation between a community's crime rate and the money it spends, said D.C. Corrections Director Walter B. Ridley.

"I haven't seen the report yet, so I don't know how they came up with their numbers," Ridley said. "But you can run into problems when you try to compare cities with states."

James Lynch, a criminal justice sociologist at American University, said it would have been more appropriate if the study had compared the District with other big cities like New York, Boston or Balitmore.

"In a state, you have urban and rural areas and the money you spend in those areas averages out. Washington doesn't have any rural areas," Lynch said.

As a result, the District, like any urban area, not only has more crime to fight, but also has higher costs, said Robert Pohlman, D.C.'s deputy mayor for finance.

"Our correctional facilities are located within the metropolitan area. We pay metropolitan labor rates and metropolitan costs for supplies and materials," Pohlman said. "Some states can locate their prisons in the boondocks, where costs are lower."

But the comparisons aside, Pohlman said the study proves "what we have been saying for some time. We are paying substantially for our anti-crime, anti-drug efforts. And so long as these problems persist we will continue to have to spend this money."

The study also shows that policymakers nationwide have spent more to fight crime during the second half of the 1980s than they did during the first half, said Sue A. Lindgren, one of the study's authors.

The District allocated about 11 percent of all its spending toward battling crime in 1988, up from 10.1 percent in 1985. About 7.2 percent of Maryland's expenditures, and 6.9 percent of Virginia's expenditures in 1988 went toward crime-fighting, about the same as in the first five years of the decade. The national average in 1988 was 6.5 percent.

Overall, "it seems policymakers responded to concerns heard in the early 1980s about drugs and crime," Lindgren said.