The District last year whittled its number of homicides below the milestone of 100 killings, but a broader increase in crime throughout the city tempered that achievement and prompted renewed calls Thursday for an expanded police force.
"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."
The District recorded 88 homicides in 2012, down from 108 the previous year. It was also the first time since 1963 that the nation's capital has logged fewer than 100 murders and its lowest homicide count in 51 years.
Source: Metropolitan Police Department
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And the 2012 homicide total is a dramatic swing from the early 1990s, when the District routinely logged more than 400 slayings every year.
But D.C. officials concede the murder rate remains excessive in a city with a population that is far smaller than its international political power would suggest.
"One death is too many," said Paul Quander Jr., deputy mayor for public safety and justice.
The District was not the only major American city to enjoy a dip in its number of murders last year. New Orleans -- the nation's long-reigning murder capital -- recorded six fewer homicides in 2012 than the previous year, while New York and Boston also reported decreases.
The District's sinking murder figure, though, wasn't matched throughout its annual crime report.
City statistics show crime rose 3 percent, an uptick largely driven by increases in sexual assaults -- especially acquaintance rapes -- as well as property thefts.
"You're going to have some blips on the radar," said Police Chief Cathy Lanier.
The jump in crime tracked with continued increases in the city's population. The Census Bureau said last month that the District had grown more than 2 percent in a year, and Lanier said the city needed to buttress its police force to account for the expansion.
But in a pair of votes on Dec. 18, the D.C. Council rejected two Gray plans that together would have increased the size of the police department by 100 officers.
The mayor said Thursday that he would try again to win approval of one proposal, a measure that would use about $1.7 million in savings from elsewhere in the budget to hire 50 officers.
Lawmakers said last year they were willing to consider bulking up the Metropolitan Police Department, but they wanted more time to consider Gray's request.