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.
It is also important to note that this is happening after the U.S. Supreme Court's 2008 ruling upholding D.C. residents' Second Amendment rights in District of Columbia v. Heller. Not only did the bloodbath predicted by gun control advocates never materialize, but guns failed to flood the city's streets. Police are on pace to recover 21 percent fewer firearms this year than they did in 2008, the year the decision was handed down.
Although D.C.'s lower murder rate is part of a general nationwide trend due to the aging of the U.S. population, it's notable because it occurred at the same time city residents were also getting younger. Nor has gentrification forced the District's most violent criminals over the border to Prince George's County, as some claim. Only 59 homicides have been reported there so far this year -- a 25-year low.
Although other violent crimes -- including armed robbery and rape -- increased 9 percent in 2012, especially in the popular "edge" neighborhoods, D.C. residents are still much less likely to be victims of homicide.
In a 2012 study of homicides in Newark, N.J., Michigan State University researchers found that "gang homicide rates are up to 100 times that of the broader population," hypothesizing that gang activity spreads homicide like an infectious disease. Chief Lanier deserves credit for her aggressive targeting of gang members and repeat offenders while encouraging her officers to engage with community residents in high-crime areas. It's paid off with the lowest body count in four decades.