District murder rate drops to 21-year low

Local,Scott McCabe

Washington will likely end 2006 with the fewest murders in 21 years, and the second-lowest total since the mid-1960s, when the city earned the nickname the "Murder Capital on the Potomac."

With less than two weeks remaining, the District has had 157 murders this year, down from 196 in 2005 and 262 three years ago. The murder rate represents the lowest in D.C. since 1985, when the city had 147 killings.

Meanwhile, murders across the country rose 1.4 percent and robberies by 9.7 percent during the first six months of 2006, according to an FBI study released Monday.

In the first half of 2006, D.C. was also in the midst of its own crime wave. After the District witnessed violent attacks of tourists on the National Mall and a string of 13 murders in 11 days, Police Chief Charles Ramsey declared a crime emergency in July.

At the time, homicides were running even with 2005 and robberies were up 15 percent. But in the second half of the year, under the crime emergency, the city’s crime rate dropped precipitously. Murders decreased 18 percent from last year, while robberies are now down 5 percent.

Mayor Anthony Williams credited Ramsey for the turnaround, including the decision to declare a crime emergency.

The crime emergency allowed Ramsey to order a mandatory six-day workweek for all police officers, essentially putting 100 more police on the street each night. The D.C. Council approved more than $14.2 million to pay for the overtime and passed emergency legislation that set an earlier curfew for juveniles, authorized the installation of 48 cameras in District neighborhoods and eased the sharing of information among law enforcement agencies. At the same time, local and federal law enforcement officials establishedseveral task forces and began serving warrants on violent criminals.

The violent crimes and robberies task forces investigated more than 100 cases and have closed more than 30 crimes. The U.S. Marshals task force, with officers from Baltimore to Norfolk, began cracking down on violent crime warrants, resulting in the arrest of more than 1,000 fugitives.

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