On the day that Prince George's County equaled a deadly milestone, Police Chief Melvin C. High defended his crime-fighting plan and his officers and predicted that the number of killings will come down next year.
Dominique Donte Walker, 26, was found with multiple gunshot wounds yesterday morning at his home on Alice Avenue in Oxon Hill, becoming the county's 154th homicide victim. The only other time in county history that the total reached 154 was by the end of 1991.
This year, people are being slain at a rate of about one every other day, leaving Prince George's on pace for about 175 homicides by the end of December.
"It's clearly not a place we want to be," High said, addressing reporters outside police headquarters yesterday afternoon. "Our department is working hard to change the course. It's darkest just before the light."
High said yesterday he has a "firm belief" that his crime-fighting strategy is working and will bring down homicides next year.
"Next year, 2006, will be a better year," he said. "I'm putting myself on the line for that. It takes a while for these things to come to fruition, but they are working."
High pointed to 13 homicide arrests in the past 10 days as evidence that police are aggressively dealing with the problem.
One of the arrests was that of a 15-year-old who was charged Tuesday night with the killing of Matthew Pickett, 21, who was attacked at the Boulevard at the Capitol Centre mall in Largo Nov. 5 and died two days later.
Walker, the most recent victim, was found in his apartment early yesterday morning. Police said they did not know why he was killed or who shot him.
Several hours earlier, a 73-year-old man was fatally beaten in his Forest Heights home in an apparent robbery. Hunting rifles were taken from his house.
Underscoring his contention that detectives are making progress, High pointed to the recent arrests of four groups of teenage carjacking suspects in Prince George's and the District. Since those arrests, carjackings have declined by 70 percent, and there were none last weekend. On an average weekend, there are 15 carjackings.
So far this year, there have been about 700 carjackings in the county, compared with 190 in the District.
High's strategy includes targeting guns and drugs to get them off the street. He said 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, about 100 fewer than the department is authorized to have.
High pointed to statistics, saying 67 percent of the homicides are drug-related and 82 percent involve guns. Police have solved about a third of the cases from this year and a handful from last year.
He said he wants the community to look "below" the numbers and explore why people are involved with drugs. "The community is concerned and I'm concerned," High said. "The community understands this issue, and understands it is a community issue."