D.C., once known as the nation’s murder capital, may need a new moniker.
The number of murders in the District have dropped precipitously this year, and the city’s image is improving as crime decreases, the chief of the Metropolitan Police Department said.
There have been 119 murders in the District this year as of Nov. 5, a 26.1 percent decline from this time last year. MPD Chief Cathy Lanier said she credits the drop to three initiatives – technology, a focus on gangs and close work with the community.
“The key is being flexible,” Lanier said.
Lanier said MPD uses technology to prevent and solve crimes by outfitting officers in the field with computers, which “allows information to move quickly,” utilizing crime cameras and maintaining a record of repeat gun offenders.
Lanier said that flow of information has enabled officers to respond quickly to emergency calls, citing that on Thursday alone, six suspects had been brought into custody for three different murders, one of which occurred that week.
Lanier also said a focus on gang conflicts – specifically immediately mediating gang rivalries – has helped decrease the number of murders.
“When shootings do occur we have to respond quickly or there can be retaliation,” Lanier said.
University Police Chief Dolores Stafford said the Second District, which encompasses Foggy Bottom, has never recorded high numbers of murders, but officers train for all circumstances.
“The Second District is one of the safest areas of the city. The homicide rate has historically been low in the Second District, so the reduction in the homicide rate city-wide has not had much effect on this area,” Stafford said.
Lanier said the overall effect of a safer city – which became known for a high number of murders in the 1990s – has drawn higher numbers of people to universities, businesses and social areas like Chinatown and Adams Morgan.
“People come in in huge numbers,” Lanier said. “[The decreased number] impacts everything. People want to run businesses here and attend schools here.”
Elliott School graduate student Andrew Martinez said that D.C.’s reputation does not match the reality of living in the District.
“I’ve had people tell me they’ve heard bad things about D.C., but I don’t think that’s any more so than any other city,” Martinez said.
One of the biggest forces in driving down crime overall has been the participation of the community, Lanier said. While crime tip rewards – which in a murder case can be worth $25,000 – are one component of community cooperation, Lanier said there was a 100 percent jump in crime tips last year, something she credits to increased communication between beat officers and members of the communities they patrol.
“You have to give the community some credit [for the low numbers] because without them we can’t be effective,” Lanier said. “People are comfortable talking to the beat officers, they trust them.”
Lanier had previously set a goal of recording less than 100 murders in the District this year, but that number was surpassed Sept. 29. Lanier said she was disappointed that the goal was not reached this year, but “if you don’t set the bar high, people won’t fight.”
“The message is clear: We’re not going to let you get away with murder,” Lanier said.