As Prince George's surpassed its all-time annual record for killings this week, County Executive Jack B. Johnson's administration said yesterday that the county has turned the corner on combating homicides in the second half of this year.
As evidence, a Johnson spokesman cited the pace of killings in the first four months of this year, when they were committed at a much faster rate than in early 2004.
However, the pace of early this year is continuing. During the first five months, 70 people were killed; 74 were slain the next five months.
Except for a spike in May, when 18 were killed, the monthly number of homicides has been consistent this year, with an average of one every other day.
Monday night, Stephon Haynes, 23, was found fatally shot in Riverdale Park, becoming the 155th person killed in the county this year. Until this week, the highest annual slaying total on record in the county was 154 in 1991; last year, 148 people were killed.
The homicide numbers are likely to be a focal point in Johnson's bid for reelection. In 2002, Johnson (D), a former state's attorney, ran on a crime-reduction platform. He has been saying since June that homicides have leveled off.
Yesterday, Jim Keary, a spokesman for Johnson, blamed the record annual total on the early months of 2005. "What is driving our homicides up is the increase in the first four months of this year," Keary said. "Since that time, it has flattened."
He reasoned that there were 19 more homicides during the first four months of this year, compared with the similar period last year. Since then, he said, killings have occurred at about the same pace as last year.
Keary's comment followed a news conference by Rushern L. Baker III, a likely Democratic challenger to Johnson next year. Baker has repeatedly criticized Johnson's crime-fighting plans, and he continued yesterday to push for the resignation of Police Chief Melvin C. High.
Baker said Johnson has failed to adequately staff the department. He suggested rehiring retired officers and moving police assigned to desk duty back onto the streets.
Keary responded by saying that Johnson is hiring more recruits and that he aims to have the force at full strength, 1,420 officers, by June. It is about 100 officers short.
Carjackings also have increased, almost 60 percent over the same period last year, and robberies have jumped 23 percent. Since January, almost 700 carjackings have occurred in Prince George's; about 190 happened in the District.
Last week, High tried to assure residents that the department was working to address the surging crime rate, pledging that crime will be lower next year.
Johnson has been saying for months that the county is making progress in fighting crime, specifically homicides.
"Violent crime numbers have flattened out because of our efforts in crime reduction," he said in a June 21 news release. In June, 14 slayings occurred, an average month for killings in the county.
An August news release reiterated the view: "Statistics show that the county has turned the corner in terms of homicides." That month, 14 people were killed.
The overall Prince George's crime rate seems to have surpassed Baltimore's for the first half of the year, though Baltimore remains ahead in violent crime, according to the FBI's preliminary Uniform Crime Report released last month. Baltimore typically has the highest crime rate in the state.
Prince George's reported 3,647 crimes per 100,000 residents, higher than the 3,354 in Baltimore. The Prince George's rate was increased significantly by the county's large number of motor vehicle and other thefts.
In the first half of this year, Baltimore reported 868 violent crimes per 100,000 residents, compared with the 545 in Prince George's.
Staff writer John Wagner contributed to this report.