For two weeks, Homicide Watch has brought you a series of special in-depth and investigative features as part of our annual Year in Review. You can find those reports, including video of our interview with MPD Chief Cathy Lanier, an analysis of our database, a gallery of street shrine photos, comments of the year, and more, here.
It was an historic year for DC: 92 homicides were reported, the fewest in 50 years. Homicide Watch DC certainly wasn’t alone in the year-end reporting on this important milestone.
This links roundup points you to coverage of the homicide year in review from other news organizations. Have we missed a link? Leave it in the comments and we’ll add it to this post.
The District of Columbia, once known as the nation’s murder capital, ended 2012 with fewer than 100 homicides for the first time since 1963.
The city recorded 88 homicides, down from the more than 400 a year it saw from 1989 through 1993 amid a crack cocaine epidemic. The decline reflects the trend in many other cities, though Chicago surpassed 500 homicides, the highest annual total since 2008.
“It strikes me probably daily as I ride around the city, or sometimes when I’m sitting at home at night, and it’s 10 o’clock and my phone’s not ringing. Or I get up in the morning, and I go, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve slept five hours,” said Police Chief Cathy Lanier, who joined the department amid violent 1991 street riots. “It strikes me quite often how different things are now.”
The drop reflects a downward trend in violent crime nationwide and is in line with declining homicides in other big cities. Though killings have risen in Chicago, New York City officials say homicides dropped to 515 last year from more than 2,200 in 1990. Houston reported 198 homicides last year, down from 457 in 1985, while Los Angeles police reported fewer than 300 last year after ending 1992 with about 1,100. Across the country, violent crime reported by police to the FBI fell by 3.8 percent last year from 2010.
Everyone agrees there’s no single cause for the trend.
One overarching factor is the city’s continued gentrification — the 2011 median household income of $63,124 is higher than all but four states, census figures show. Whole city blocks have been refashioned, drug dens razed, a Major League Baseball stadium built in place of urban blight, high-rise public housing replaced by less-dense garden style apartments. Though the poverty rate has risen, the growing wealth has pushed impoverished communities farther away from the city center. Some crime has also migrated to neighboring Prince George’s County, Md., though homicides are down there too.
“There are just more physical places in Washington, D.C., that are affluent and safe than there used to be,” Roman said.
Law enforcement techniques and medical care have advanced at the same time. Improved technology helps officers pinpoint gunfire, even before a 911 call, and share information faster. A police unit dedicated to seizing illegal firearms was re-established and prosecutors, benefiting from the city’s strict gun laws, routinely ask that defendants arrested on weapons charges be held without bond — in part, to head off possible retaliation. Stronger community relationships mean detectives have developed better sources on the street and witness cooperation, police say.
And better medical care, honed through lessons learned in Iraq and Afghanistan, means patients who were once stabilized at the scene are more likely to be taken directly to the hospital, where they have access to improved blood transfusion processes.
Every city has a number.
For Baltimore in recent years, it’s 200. For Chicago, it’s 500. And in Philadelphia and Los Angeles, it’s 300. In the District, the number is 100.
It’s a threshold for the year’s homicides. But more importantly, it’s a gauge of success or failure that often creates or perpetuates an urban identity.
After two decades of generally declining homicide levels, the District recorded fewer than 100 killings in 2012 for the first time since the Kennedy administration. And while overall crime has increased and an indiscriminate pattern of violent robberies persists, the diminishing homicide total has provided validation for a city seeking to shed its entrenched reputation as the nation’s “murder capital” and consolidate the fragile gains that come with a rising population and a resilient local economy.
Speaking at a high-tech command center at MPD headquarters, Lanier also said the Metropolitan Police Department showed marked improvement in the percentage of homicide cases it closes, with 82 percent according to the Uniform Crime Reporting standard that D.C. and most other major cities use. The standard, developed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, includes actions on homicide cases from prior years.
With charts and graphs, D.C. mayor Vincent Gray and D.C. police chief Cathy Lanier rolled out crime numbers that many would have though impossible years ago: There were only 88 homicides in 2012, down 18 percent from 2011.
It was down substantially from 1991, where there were a record 479 homicides and D.C. was called the murder capital.
“We’re going in the right direction,” said Mayor Vincent Gray as he announced the fifth consecutive year of lower homicide figures for the city. “Public safety will remain one of our top priorities. It has to be.”
Just one LGBT related murder took place in 2012 — the February 2012 stabbing death of transgender woman Deoni Jones, 23, at a bus stop in Northeast D.C. Police arrested District resident Gary Niles Montgomery, 55, for the crime less than two weeks later. Montgomery has since been indicted on first-degree murder while armed and is being held in jail while he awaits trial.
Police have listed the motive of the slaying as robbery rather than a hate crime.
Four homicides occurred on the Metro system in 2012, even as jurisdictions around the region celebrated massive reductions in the number of slayings.
The transit agency had three people slain on its bus system, including 20-year-old Selina Brown as she held her toddler in her arms last month. And 18-year-old Olijawon Griffin was fatally stabbed in the Woodley Park Metro station on Nov. 17, apparently over his jacket and cellphone.
In the six years that Lanier has been police chief, homicides have declined by more than 50 percent. But during the interview, Lanier acknowledged that spasms of violence can still break out with alarming frequency and said that the homicide rate “has to go lower.”
“People walking around saying ‘we can’t prevent homicides’ is one of the most frustrating things,” Lanier said. “We can prevent homicides.”
D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier attributed the drop to a focus on guns, more tips from residents and new technology as well as the city’s Gang Intelligence Unit.
“Since they started in 2008, we have not seen the retaliatory shootings like we used to,” Lanier wrote in an email. “They know all validated gang members, they interact with them directly during a beef, and they have great sources that help keep us one step ahead of the violence.”
Debate over US gun laws raged last month following the massacre of 20 first-grade students and six teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, by an unhinged teenager using a Bushmaster assault rifle.
Asked about a possible ban over such military-style weapons, Metropolitan Police Department chief Cathy Lanier told reporters that law enforcement cannot “stop everything from happening,” but can reduce risks.
“High capacity magazines and automatic rifles — those are two things we ought to be thinking about in terms of reducing the risk (of homicide) and reducing harm,” she said.
“If you look back just in 2008, 142 people were killed with a firearm,” she says. “That number has dropped down to 59.”
Comparing the same years, 20 children were the victims of homicide. Four years later, just three children were victims of homicide.
The motive in killings has also changed from the District’s more violent past. Whereas drug battles often fueled the aggression, there has recently been a spike in attacks related to robbery.
“I think robbery and the taking of property is one of the ones that we’re seeing become more prevalent,” Lanier says. “That is worrisome.”
So we come back to Angelo Payne, Jason Emma and the people who killed them.
The shooters demonstrated no regard for boundaries. They did not care about the pain they caused Emma, Payne and the 86 other D.C. homicide victims in 2012. Or their loved ones.
That is what makes murderers so sobering and challenging: There are many in this city and region, and in places such as Chicago and Newtown, Conn.
Whether a shooter kills one person, goes on a five-month killing spree or commits mass murder in a single morning, America has too many killings of all kinds. That is our problem. What is our solution? Vice President Biden’s gun-control task force should take on that question, too.
Washington Post (editorial)
A MORBID end-of-year ritual for local law enforcement officials is the annual tally of people murdered. That 2012 is likely to see historic lows in homicides for the District of Columbia as well as neighboring Prince George’s County is clearly welcome news. But as local officials are right to stress, the numbers don’t lessen the pain of the lives lost or the need to redouble efforts against crime.
“I still think about [the] families who have lost somebody. So it’s certainly not, it’s not victory. But it feels like a good milestone for us. I think we passed the tipping point,” D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier told Homicide Watch D.C. of the prospect that the District would have fewer than 100 homicides this year. As of Thursday, 86 slayings had been reported, which is 20 percent lower than last year at this time; the figure would place Washington on a trajectory to have the lowest number of homicides since 1963. In Prince George’s, there were 63 homicides as of Thursday, down from 95 in 2011 and a likely 25-year low.
Washington Examiner (editorial)
In January 2007, when former Mayor Adrian Fenty tapped Cathy Lanier as the District’s first female chief of police, she got off to a rocky start. Homicides increased 7.7 percent, from 169 in 2006 to 181 in 2007, and continued their upward trajectory with 186 in 2008. This was a far cry from 1991, the year after Lanier joined the Metropolitan Police Department at the peak of the blood-letting, when 479 people were murdered. But it did raise concerns that she was not up to the job.
Lanier’s critics were wrong. Homicides in D.C. plunged to 144 in 2009 and have been falling ever since. As of Dec. 11, only 80 were reported so far this year, compared to 108 in 2011 and 132 in 2010. The District is now on course to finish 2012 with the lowest murder rate since 1963, when Congress enacted Home Rule.
The Virginian Pilot (editorial)
There are methods to end the murder madness.
Solutions include parents who will stay in their children’s lives.
Keeping firearms, especially handguns, away from predators.
Getting young people to remain in school.
Washington is doing something right in the never-ending battle. The news there is reason to applaud, especially at the start of a new year.
It could be a blueprint for violence-plagued cities across America.