Prince Georges County Police investigate the fatal shooting of a man and… (Mark Gail/THE WASHINGTON…)
The number of homicides dropped again last year in the Washington region, including in the District, which grew in population and yet recorded the fewest killings in a half-century.
As of Monday evening, the District had 88 killings in 2012, a milestone for D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier, whose long-standing goal has been fewer than 100 homicides. As recently as 2009, the District had 140 killings. In 2011, there were 108.
In Prince George’s County, where crime dropped in nearly every category, there were 63 homicides, down from 97 in 2011, a harkening back to the 1980s, when the county had more farmland than urban centers or upscale subdivisions.
Police point to several reasons for the decrease, which has been part of a years-long national trend in some major cities across the country.Authorities have broken up dozens of violent gangs, seized thousands of guns, used technology to monitor the streets and directed additional resources to high-crime areas.
And District officials have given residents a financial incentive to provide tips: nearly $600,000 in reward money was paid out last year.
Although homicides have fallen, robberies have been a stubborn problem in the District. Smartphones and designer apparel are popular targets. Police say some criminals are committing robberies for quick money as the area’s drug trade, once a chief driver of the killings, has declined.
“We used to have 11 shootings and seven, eight homicides in a weekend,” Lanier said in a recent interview. “Now we’ll have a whole weekend where we don’t respond to a shooting.”
Killings in some of the region’s suburbs, where violent crimes are far more infrequent, remained about the same as the previous year, with Montgomery County recording 15 and Alexandria none. A few counties posted increases: Fairfax had 17 and Arlington had four, including jewelry store owner Tommy Wong, who was slain inside his shop. In 2011, there were 11 homicides in Fairfax and none in Arlington.
In the District, which has added more than 30,000 residents in just over two years, gun assaults also decreased about 11 percent last year, continuing a recent trend. But overall, assaults with deadly weapons have increased about 7 percent, police data show.
One of the most widespread crimes in recent years has been street robbery. At the beginning of the year, holdups spiked so severely that the department turned its focus to curbing them, beefing up its robbery unit and deploying extra patrols and teams of undercover decoys.
The numbers stabilized by the end of the year, but there were still some high-profile and brutal robberies, including the case of Thomas Maslin, who was beaten with a bat and left near Eastern Market. The assailants were after Maslin’s phone, police said.
Robberies generally decreased last year in the suburbs, including in Arlington, Alexandria, Prince George’s and Fairfax, which had a 20 percent decline in holdups.
New York City announced an all-time low in homicides this year, with 414 as of Friday, 100 fewer than in 2011. The city also posted a record low number of shootings, 1,353, down from 1,420 the previous year.
Chicago, however, is experiencing a wave of violence and recently recorded its 500th killing of 2012.
Homicides in Philadelphia and Baltimore remain down significantly from historic highs, but were up slightly compared with 2011.
In the Washington region, there were several particularly shocking killings in 2012. In August, an armed intruder killed 17-year-old Amber Stanley in her Upper Marlboro home. Not a month later, another high school student, Marckel Ross, 18, was gunned down as he walked to Central High in Capitol Heights.
In the District on Christmas Eve, Capitol Hill resident Jason Emma, 28, was fatally shot near his home in what police think was a robbery. Earlier in December, Selina Brown was gunned down by the father of her toddler daughter as she boarded a bus. The child, who was in Brown’s arms, was wounded in the shooting.
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.”
Just this week, there were shootings within hours of each other in neighborhoods just south of East Capitol Street that left two men dead — Angelo Alphonso Payne, 23, and Darnell Rivers, 22.
In recent years, the drug trade has steadily declined as open-air markets have faded and criminals have turned to stealing and selling smartphones and other devices. Last year, there were fewer than 10 drug-related homicides, officials said — a far cry from the 1990s, when the trade in crack cocaine was much of the reason the District saw close to 500 homicides a year.