The DC's inner city crime ratesare about 20% above the MSA sample average, but are essentially no different than others MSA-wide. They are below those for Atlanta, Newark, and Baltimore City, among others. MSA crimes rates nationwide, not surprisingly, are 2.5 times as high as rural crime rates, and MSAs commit 40% more violent crimes as a share of total crime (14.4% v 10.5%). This is yet another area where the comparison of relevant statistics shows that the DC is, in fact, an inner city, not "almost a state". It is also one of the prime reasons why DC residents are leaving for the suburbs.

A recent (April '98) Washington Post article has summarized comparative crime statistics for DC and the surrounding metro area. The largest increases in violent crime have taken place in DC and Prince George's (PG) County. PG violent crime rates doubled from 60 to 120 per 10,000 residents, while DC's doubled from 150 to 300, and Alexandria's dropped from 90 to 50. Virtually all the other surrounding jurisdictions have achieved rates below the national suburban average of 38.1 in 1996. The two exceptional counties of Fairfax, VA and Montgomery, MD have maintained rates below 20 and 30 , respectively.

As mentioned above, comparing crime rates in an inner city like the District of Columbia with largely rural or suburban states of the South or Midwest, is not useful. However, comparisons between metro areas are more appropriate, and some recent ones are provided on the Money web site describing America's Safest Cities. On this basis, Washington, DC is not always in last place, though it and its nearby neighbor Baltimore are generally in the bottom five percent. Below are tabulated the rankings for Washington and Baltimore out of the 207 metro areas:

(Washington and Baltimore)

(Bottom (Worst) Rank = 207th)

Crime Aspect Washington Baltimore
Overall Crime 191st 194th
Violent Crime 199th 200th
Murder 183rd 179th
Rape 100th 186th
Robbery 203rd 205th
Assault 192nd 190th
Burglary 160th 181st
Theft 170th 164th
Car Theft 194th 175th
. . .
Highest Number of Police 7th 8th
Highest Police per Capita 1st 6th
Weighted Ranking 201st 200th

Nevertheless, the trends in serious crimes against both people and property have been declining steadily both in DC and across the US, though much of this reduction is attributed to better economic conditions rather than better police work. Taken from the Metropolitan Police Department's own web site, the three charts below summarize the improvements between 1993 and 1999. Crimes against people are down more sharply than against property (largely car thefts), and there appears to have been improvement in each of the city's seven police districts.

A firehouse stands empty where Alabama and Martin Luther King Avenues join 2 miles from the Capitol Mall.

DC fire and emergency personnel levels also far exceed national and regional norms, while their unprofessional performance has become legendary--in part due to unwise DC legislation concerning priorities; such as doubling up fire and ambulance services to cover up systemic failures; and encouraging extensive non-emergency "taxi" services, often reimbursed by Medicaid.

Severe problems with DC's emergency call (911) system have also been brought to light recently. They have been the subject of a recent Inspector General investigation, and yet again point to a virtually dysfunctional operation.

o DC's Serious Problems with Homicides--and Solving Them

For many years, DC has had the uneviable reputation for being the "murder capital" of the US--or close to it. As of the end of 1997, with 15% of the 3.6 million total population in the COG metro area, DC accounted for 71% of the homicides-- resulting in a homicide rate more than 13 times higher than in the suburbs. The good news is that the number of homicides in DC in 1999 had dropped to half those in 1990. Hence of the 3,797 homicides in DC during the '90s, only 1,185 occurred in the last four years.

The bad news is that 1,700 (45%) of the decade's homicides remain unsolved--and 643 (54%) of those in the last four years remain unsolved. According to the proposed DC Agenda "Scorecard" assessment system, the police department would be creditted with halving the DC murder rate, but not criticized for leaving over half of them unsolved! NARPAC finds it difficult to believe that crime can be deterred by simply failing to solve those that are committed.

Colbert King, senior editorial writer for the Washington Post, also finds it difficult to believe that many of the killers are unknown to those in the blighted communities where these killings take place (mainly over drugs). A large share of the victims are young, and so, presumably, are their killers. Chief Ramsey hoped that a new $10,000 reward program established in early 2000 would result in a higher number of criminals being apprehended based on neighborhood informants.

But such optimism has so far proven unwarranted. In December, 2000, the Washington Post published a series of in-depth articles chronicling the MPD's inability to solve its homicides. Even though the number of killings had dropped 50%, the number of crimes solved had dropped from 57% in 1990, to 36% in 2000. And the dubious manner in which many unsolved crimes were 'closed' has raised additional questions. Chief Ramsey expressed surprise at some of the newspaper's findings, but established an 8-man review team to review the case files.

Picking up where the Washington Post left off, the DC Council's Judiciary Committee released a remarkably harsh report at the end of February, 2001, detailing what can only be characterized as another dysfunctional operation of the DC government. Paraphrasing the Post's lead editorial of 2/24/01, the Judiciary Committee found that:

o the homicide investigative program has fallen into a state of collapse;

o MPD has no detective selection procress, no minimum experience requirements, no requirements for written exams or writing samples, no oral exams, no performance reviews, and no formal training program for new detectives;

o detective supervisors are selected without investigative experience;

o there are no standards for retaining, promoting, disciplining, or removing detectives;

o police case files have been in disarray.

NARPAC's concerns for Ramsey's decision to decentralize scarce high-skill functions (see following section) appear to have been justified. Whether his decision to increase emphasis on local PSA's (police service areas) has made a contribution to overall crime reduction (see prior section), we cannot judge. But it seems unambiguously clear that the threat of being caught should not deter homicides in DC!

At the same time, NARPAC commends the Council's Judiciary Committee for their frank assessment of MPD's problems, and encourages them to keep a close eye on the MPD and its increasingly discredited leadership.

It should also be noted that while DC may no longer deserve the label of "murder capital of the US", it still does not rank with the suburbs as a safe place to live. While DC suffered 237 murders in 2000, and has closed 88 of them, neighboring Montgomery County had a total of 15 murders and has solved 9 of them to date.

This item was archived in April, 2004

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