Jesse B. Hooks Jr. still remembers the night in May last year when a bullet entered the third-floor window of his son's living room in Congress Heights and narrowly missed his 3-year-old granddaughter. And he remembers the night this year when he was robbed on his way to buy an ice-cream cone.

"I try not to go out into the neighborhood unless I have someplace specific to go," said Hooks, 52.

Recently, though, Hooks has started to go out a little more, chat with neighbors, enjoy the sun.

The threat of violence "hasn't been close like it had been--dangerously close," he explained.

Ward 8, the poorest ward in the District, did not see a single slaying in June, the first month in at least 10 years to go by without any homicides, according to 7th Police District Cmdr. Winston Robinson Jr.

There have been three slayings so far in July.

Other violent crimes have been on the decline, too. So far this year, there have been 35 percent fewer rapes than a year ago, and assaults with weapons have dropped 11 percent, Robinson said.

The month without, which was first reported in the weekly Washington Informer, may be a statistical fluke, but it also is a dramatic symbol of the drop in violent crime in the ward, which spans Anacostia, Congress Heights and part of Southwest Washington, city officials said.

Stepped-up summer police patrols help explain the drop in murders, Robinson said. Since homicide detectives were sent to the trict, the closure rate for murder cases is an impressive 42 percent, he said.

The city has improved garbage collection, tree trimming and the removal of abandoned vehicles, said Lamont B. Mitchell, Mayor Anthony A. Williams's economic adviser for the neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River. D.C. Council member Sandy Allen (D), who represents Ward 8, said 1,000 residents have left over the last three years, mostly for Prince George's County. Preparatory work for the extension of the Metro's Green Line to Congress Heights has helped to enliven the area, residents said.

For some folks, the peaceful lull has been more a matter of relief than mystery.

"It's been real quiet lately, and I like it," said Kim Washington, 23, a Congress Park resident who was returning from a laundry run as a group of children splashed nearby in the spray of an open fire hydrant. "Last summer, I was never out here on the street."

Street vendor Terry Evans recalled one summer a few years ago when 25 people were shot in one month and "you heard gunfire every moment." This summer, "they're not after each other like that anymore," said Evans, 36, as he tried to sell water guns and posters of pro wrestlers on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue.

The total number of crimes in the 7th District, which includes Ward 8 and a part of Ward 6, fell 32 percent between 1996 and 1997 and dropped another 22 percent last year, police said. But so far this year, the total number is only 7 percent lower from last year, and the number of robberies has climbed 12 percent, Robinson said. Drug markets and unemployment still trouble the area.

Evans continues to be wary. "I hope that it continues this way," he said.

CAPTION: Jesse B. Hooks Jr., 52, recently has started to go out a little more in his Congress Heights neighborhood.