With about seven weeks remaining in 2005, Prince George's County has outpaced its killing total for last year and is on the brink of an alarming milestone: breaking its all-time high for homicides.
This year, 152 people have been slain in Prince George's, four more than for all of last year. In 1991, the county logged a record high of 154.
People are being killed in the county at an average of one every other day, and the most likely victim has emerged as a black man in his twenties who is shot on a Monday night somewhere inside the Capital Beltway.
He is most likely to be found in a street or another open area, the victim of a robbery or an argument. There is a chance he might be hit on the head or stabbed. And there is a one in three chance his killer will be caught this year.
The majority of the killings involve beefs over drugs and seemingly simple displays of disrespect. They explode over such issues as a love interest, a slanted glance or a small debt.
"When I was a bouncer in college, we'd put up our dukes and duke it out," said Percy Alston, president of Prince George's Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 89. "Now, if you challenge someone's manhood, they're going to get their gun."
About 82 percent of the county's homicides are committed with a gun and 67 percent involve drugs, said Maj. Vincent Gay, commander of the Criminal Investigations Division.
"Our main focus is addressing drugs and guns," Gay said. "We are facing some challenges in terms of crime. We want to see the trend going the other way, but it's not necessarily going to happen overnight."
Police Chief Melvin C. High would not comment for this article.
Gay said that if the department tackles the issues of guns and drugs, the homicide rate would fall. This year, officers have taken $27 million worth of illegal drugs off the street and recovered 1,200 guns, he said.
Police officials said that they have a crime-fighting plan in place to combat the violence and that their focus is in the right place. The department is putting more officers on patrol, targeting high-crime neighborhoods, and holding daily meetings of police commanders to examine crime trends.
The understaffed department also is in the midst of an aggressive hiring push. It now has about 1,300 sworn officers, more than 100 fewer than the department is authorized to have, Alston said.
The county's first homicide of the year occurred Jan. 3, a Monday, on Suitland's notoriously dangerous Hudson Avenue. Shawn Chambers, 24, was fatally shot in front of his home at 9 a.m., a case that remains open.
The most recent high-profile killing was that of new U.S. Army recruit Matthew Pickett, 21, who died Monday night after being robbed and beaten days earlier at the Boulevard at the Capital Centre in Largo. The people who jumped him in an unprovoked attack have not been caught.
Between the Chambers and Pickett cases, there were more than two dozen drug-related slayings, a half-dozen gang-related killings and nine domestic homicides, among others, according to police data.
One police officer was killed, and four residents were killed by police.
The homicide number has more than doubled since 2000, when 71 people were killed in the county.
Between 2000 and today, there have been many changes in Prince George's, including population growth and an influx of poor people moving in from the District for inexpensive housing. In recent years, the District has razed several large public housing complexes, including some near the border with Prince George's. Displaced residents were able to use housing vouchers in the District or in Maryland.
The majority of people who moved to Prince George's from the District are hardworking, law-abiding citizens, but there are clusters of criminals who arrive as well, Alston said.
"Along with the good, we are getting the criminals and the dregs of society," he said.
Measures of violent crime in Prince George's other than homicide have already surpassed last year's totals. Robbery is up 23 percent from this time last year, and carjackings have jumped by 59 percent.
With the crime numbers elevated and the police department stretched thin, several of the two dozen small municipal police departments in the county have increased their police forces. And last week, two cities in the county -- Bowie and College Park -- passed referendums favoring higher taxes in order to create their own police forces. In May, New Carrollton voted to establish a three-member force.
Some county residents and town officials say they are concerned about a lack of police presence and what they say is the lengthy time it takes police to respond to calls.
"Slowly, municipalities are taking over police responsibility in the county," said Adam Ortiz, mayor of the town of Edmonston, which has five police officers. "It is a reflection of the inadequacy of the county to keep citizens safe."
Gay said he and the department don't take the creation of new departments as an affront.
He said he thinks that those cities simply wanted more day-to-day control over public safety in their communities.
Killings in the District historically have been the highest in the region by a considerable amount, but the gap between killings in the city and in Prince George's is slowly narrowing, with the District's number falling by about 6 percent this year and Prince George's rising about 16 percent. Still, the District has had 13 more homicides than the county this year.
Alston said morale among officers remains steady, despite the climbing numbers.
"As far as officers working here every day and seeing the violence, we're accustomed to it," Alston said.
"We don't want to be accustomed to it, but we see it every day. That galvanized us and motivates us to try to reduce the crime."