An Oct. 17 article about the homicide rates in the District and Prince George's County referred to shooting victim Jerome Humphries Jr. as Jerome Humphrey. (Published 10/19/04)
Prince George's County police have recorded an average of 12 slayings a month this year, putting Washington's most crime-troubled suburb on pace for an annual homicide total not seen since the mid-1990s.
Since January, detectives have investigated 115 slayings, an 11.6 percent increase over the same period in 2003. Not since 1995, when 145 homicides were committed in Prince George's, has the county inched this close to a similar year-end tally.
Officials said they have not identified patterns that could help explain the surge in killings. While most have occurred in communities near the Prince George's-District border, no common factors appear to be responsible, said Lt. Larry Gordon, the department's homicide commander.
"Bottom line, we don't know why there has been an increase," he said. "I wish we knew because then it would be easier to solve them and prevent them."
Police commanders in the District are puzzled but for a different reason: Through Wednesday, 156 slayings had been tallied in the city, down 20 percent from the 196 recorded through the same period last year. The District is on pace to record its lowest annual homicide total in two decades, which officials have attributed to better crime-pattern analysis and more targeted patrols.
"I wish there was one reason I could put my finger on, but I can't," D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey said in an interview. He said that daily meetings with top commanders about high-crime areas and new enforcement strategies most likely have helped but that he is "just pleased to see the drop."
Criminologists said economic factors, including higher housing costs in the city compared with Prince George's, also could be playing a role in the District's decline in homicides and the simultaneous increase in Prince George's.
Large numbers of people have moved from the District to Prince George's in recent years as low-cost housing has been razed and replaced by pricey condominiums and apartments. Houses that once sold for less than $200,000 in such District neighborhoods as LeDroit Park, Columbia Heights and the areas near Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium now fetch upward of $500,000.
People on fixed incomes who cannot afford the higher taxes have been forced to move, and many have moved east to Prince George's. Longtime county residents have complained for years that the growing density of some neighborhoods has led to increases in crime, including homicide.
"It's just too early to really know" if that is true, said Brian Wiersema, a criminal justice researcher at the University of Maryland who studies crime trends in the region. "It would be speculative at this point to say any one thing is responsible."
The boundary streets separating the city and county have long been the sites of a frustrating game of jurisdictional Ping-Pong for authorities. When D.C. officers patrol their side of the line, drug dealers and prostitutes often cross over to Maryland. When Prince George's officers arrive, the offenders jump back to the District. Unless officers see a felony in progress, they are generally barred from crossing the line.
But that could change soon.
At an Oct. 4 ceremony on a street corner near the border, the U.S. Marshals Service agreed to deputize 16 police officers from the two jurisdictions so they can cross the city-county border to make arrests, a revival of a crime-fighting strategy employed in the early 1990s.
The border communities bear the brunt of violent crime. Statistics show that in recent years, roughly 80 percent of the homicides in Prince George's have occurred within a few miles of the border, and nearly half of the District's slayings have been committed in areas adjoining the county.
Residents who live in those densely populated neighborhoods share more than the familiar sounds of gunshots and police sirens. They also share victims, which was noted at last week's ceremony.
Two recent slayings, one in Prince George's, the other in the District, offer one of numerous examples.
About 5:45 p.m. Oct. 5, Jonathan Foster, 22, was standing outside Ace's Check Cashing in the 800 block of Southern Avenue on the Prince George's side of the border when a car carrying five people drove up, and someone in the vehicle fired several shots. Foster, of Southeast Washington, was hit multiple times. The alleged attackers were apprehended a short time later, and two were charged with first-degree murder.
A few days before Foster was killed, an Upper Marlboro man was fatally shot in Southeast Washington.
Shortly after midnight Oct. 2, Jerome Humphrey, 24, was shot while inside a vehicle in the 5300 block of East Capitol Street SE, a few blocks from Prince George's. Witnesses told detectives that a gold-colored car drove alongside Humphrey's vehicle and someone fired several shots, striking Humphrey and two passengers, both of whom suffered serious injuries. That case remains unsolved.
Staff writer Del Quentin Wilber and staff researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.