Homicides have dropped nearly 50 percent in Prince George's County so far this year from the first six months of 2011, marking a drastic reduction that county police and public safety officials hope to maintain for the next six months.
County police are investigating 28 homicide cases, 26 of which occurred in 2012. Compared with a year ago, when the department was handling 54 homicide cases, the homicide rate has been reduced by 48 percent.
The drop in killings is steep for a county that has seen a steady number of homicides for the last three years, when more than 90 people were killed annually. And 117 people were killed in 2008.
Police and county officials see the fall in homicides as a measure of the overall drop in crime Prince George's has experienced in the last two years.
"We can get the crime rate under control all we want," said Barry Stanton, the county's deputy chief administrator for public safety. "But until we cut the number of homicides in Prince George's County, people are going to think we aren't making progress."
The reduction in homicides dates to 2011, when county police saw fewer homicides as the year went on following a deadly January when 15 people were killed, said Assistant Chief Kevin Davis.
Police, aiming for a 10 percent reduction in homicides at the end of the year, estimate they will handle 85 homicide cases in 2012, though Davis is reluctant to commit to any number when trying to predict the number of homicides Prince George's will face.
At the current rate, killings in Prince George's would fall under 60 in 2012.
Such a steep drop in homicides would be uncommon, said Charles Wellford, a professor of criminology at the University of Maryland, College Park.
Even at their best, murder rates in cities such as Baltimore and New York have typically dropped by about 15 percent to 20 percent -- not cut in half as they have in Prince George's, he said.
"The numbers are small but promising," Wellford said. "And even if they end up with a 30 percent decrease, that would be a substantial decrease when compared to other jurisdictions."
But Prince George's officials say they are not ready to pat themselves on the back just yet.
"I'm very cynical about progress," Stanton said. "I like to stay focused and not beat your own drum until the end of the year and see where you are."