Bucking a trend in other major U.S. cities where the homicide rate is heading down, the District has just passed a grim milestone: More people have been killed in the city so far this year than for the entire year of 2017.
And there’s more than three months still to go in 2018.
Fourteen people were shot and two people were stabbed over the weekend in what D.C. police believe are unconnected crime sprees. Seven of the gunshot victims died, bringing the total number of homicides this year in the District up to 118 as of Tuesday evening — passing 2017’s total of 116 victims.
Metropolitan Police Department’s Patrol Chief Lamar Greene told a D.C. Council’s public safety committee hearing Tuesday that there has been a decrease in crime citywide after staffing up on officers and running summer community programs, but acknowledged that homicides are clearly on the rise.
“We know that more must be done,” Patrol Chief Greene said, calling the trend “troubling and unacceptable.”
On April 23, 25-year-old Northeast D.C. resident Travis Barksdale died on the 600 block of Evarts Street NE from multiple gunshots — bringing the number of homicides in the city to 100. At the time, Barksdale’s murder represented a 35 percent increase in the number of killings compared the same time frame last year, according to police data.
By now the year-to-date rate of homicides is up 42 percent compared to 2017’s pace.
D.C. Councilmember Charles Allen, who chaired the Tuesday hearing as head of the public safety committee, said officers are finding “unusually high-end firearms” at the shooting scenes lately with “high capacity rounds.” The weapons featured in high-profile cases this summer such as the slaying of 10-year-old Makiyah Wilson when four masked men shot into a crowd in July.
A new report issued last week by the Brennan Center for Justice found that the District is a distinct outlier among major U.S. cities when it comes to the 2018 murder rate. Preliminary data examined by the New York University think tank found that the murder rate per 100,000 residents so far this year has dropped sharply in cities such as San Francisco (down 35 percent from 2017) and Baltimore (down 20.9 percent), while rising modestly in New York (up 4.5 percent).
Even Chicago, whose crime and street violence sparked national headlines and played a key part in Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s surprise decision earlier this month not to seek a third term, has seen the city’s murder rate to date in 2018 fall by 23.2 percent, according to the analysis.
But the report’s authors noted Washington’s murder rate for going in the other way.
“While the overall murder rate is estimated to decline this year in these cities, a few cities are projected to experience increases,” according to the study. “For example, Washington, D.C.’s murder rate is expected to rise 34.9 percent” for the year if present trends continue.
The report did not analyze why there was such a sharp disparity in the murder rate for the District and its peers.
In total, D.C. police recovered 190 illegal firearms this summer, Chief Greene said. All other crimes except carjackings (up 2 percent from last year) and theft from cars (up 7 percent) decreased this summer, according to police data released earlier Tuesday.
Officials from the mayor’s Safer Stronger DC Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement and the Deputy Mayor Office of Greater Economic Opportunity attributed some of the success to a host of summer community programs aimed at reducing crime and recidivism through job placement and counseling services.
The D.C. area hit hardest by homicides this year is the 7th policing district in Southeast with 50 people killed so far. Mayor Muriel Bowser has put some of the blame on regional police commander Regis Bryant for the increase, and removed him in June over protest from the police union and Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White.
The number of killings in the District dipped down to 88 in 2012, the lowest number since 1968, but that number rose again in 2013 and 2014, spiking up to 162 by 2015.
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