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Washington Is No Longer U.S. Murder Capital

THE WASHINGTON POST

The number of people slain in the District of Columbia dropped 11% this year, the largest reduction in homicides since the mid-1980s, when the widespread advent of crack unleashed a seemingly unrelenting tide of violence in the eastern half of the city.

As of Friday, 414 people had been slain in the city in 1994, down from the 467 homicides that occurred in 1993. The year ended with 780 nonfatal shootings, a reduction of 14% from the previous year. Overall reported crime dropped 8% in the district.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Washington had the highest rate of homicide among major U.S. cities. That is no longer the case. This year, the city’s homicide rate of about 71 slayings for every 100,000 residents places it third behind New Orleans and Richmond, Va., according to statistics provided by the FBI and local police departments.

No one is claiming that violent crime in the district is being rolled back for good. Law enforcement officials remember that the homicide total dipped 7% in 1992, only to rise again the following year. In a city with a high level of violence, such as Washington, homicide totals will fluctuate year to year, and a reduction one year does not necessarily signal a trend, according to independent crime experts.

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But the difference this year, some officials believe, is that the D.C. Police Department, federal law enforcement agencies and the U.S. attorney’s office have teamed up as never before to target violent groups in specific neighborhoods where killing has become part of the landscape.

“I don’t think for one minute our reduction in violence is happenstance,” Police Chief Fred Thomas said in an interview. “I think it is the result of good, hard work.”

Thomas attributed the decrease in violence to a 10% improvement in arrests in homicide cases, increased patrols in high-crime areas and dramatic improvements in the department’s technological capabilities that helped detectives identify and arrest criminals.

More than 90% of the homicides continue to involve young black men and teen-agers as victims and killers. Again, the vast majority of the year’s homicides--82%--were committed with firearms. In most cases, the victim and killer were associates, and in many cases had one time been friends.

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Following a national trend, more juveniles were involved in D.C. killings in 1994. Police charged 60 teen-agers with murder this year, compared with 30 in 1993.

Hundreds of federal law enforcement agents and officers now work full time with the D.C. police. Agents from the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms have helped police break up several violent drug crews responsible for scores of homicides.

The addition of basic equipment and sophisticated technology also has helped the police fight crime, Thomas said. In the last two years, the department has added about 600 new squad cars, 800 new hand-held police radios and a new dispatch system.


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