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Just two days after a candid email exchange between police Chief Cathy Lanier and a District resident was published online, D.C.’s top cop has sent out a citywide email on crime stats—an unusual, if not unprecedented, display of transparency from the Metropolitan Police Department.
In the email, Lanier outlines national crime trends affecting major cities across the U.S. as well as patterns specific to the District, which may soon surpass the total number of homicides it saw throughout all last year (105). Homicides are up 43 percent as compared with Aug. 25, 2014.
“I wanted to make sure that I shared the facts with our community members on violent crime in the city,” Lanier writes. “The information below is what I have provided to the members of the Council for the District of Columbia.”
Much of the information in the email isn’t new: For example, Lanier and Mayor Muriel Bowser have previously cited repeat violent offenders and synthetic drugs as two possible causes behind the uptick in violence this year. Still, it’s noteworthy that the District government appears to be articulating those causes on firmer footing than in past weeks, with more-granular and open data.
Homicides by Police District:
Take repeat violent offenders: Forty-five percent of the people arrested for homicides this year had prior gun-related arrests in D.C., up 18 percent from 2014, Lanier writes. Moreover, a total of 42 homicide arrestees and victims in 2015 were “under supervision pending trial or on probation or parole at the time of the crime.” (Yesterday, the Washington Post broke the news that Bowser will ask the D.C. Council to let police officers search and detain people on parole or probation if they’re violating their release terms. The proposal is not without its critics.)
As for synthetic drugs, Lanier writes: “It is an extremely dangerous drug and if not addressed federally, we will have a public health crisis on our hands as its use continues to expand.” She adds that 20 percent of 136 arrestees in the District tested positive for synthetic drugs, in July.
The chief also addresses a criticism some—including the D.C. Police Union—have mounted in recent weeks: that her decision to discontinue plain-clothes vice units has caused an increase in violence. “Simply put, the vice units had ceased to be as effective as they once were, largely due to the changes in criminal enterprises and drug markets that have made our tactics obsolete,” she explains. Lanier notes that homicides began to rise in March, but vice units remained until June.
To date, the MPD’s average closure-rate for homicides across D.C. is 60 percent. Notably, the First and Second police districts have an 80 percent closure rate each, while the Third, Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh police districts have 33, 50, 50, and 51 percent closure rates, respectively. In 2014, the final closure rate was 70.5 percent, down about 10 points from the two previous years.
Meanwhile, large swaths of Northeast and Southeast have experienced disproportionate levels of violent crime: The Fifth and Seventh police districts account for 84 percent of the total jump in violence from 2014—homicides increased by 67 and 95 percent in those districts, respectively.
“In terms of the ‘reasons’ for or other identifiable similarities that may account for the increase in homicides, a glance at the known motives reveals an array of troubling reasons,” Lanier explains. “A common theme being individuals are choosing to settle arguments or disputes through extremely violent means.” MPD has identified 21 homicides that were motivated by an argument, 16 that were motivated by robbery, and seven that were motivated by gambling/dice.
Whether 2015 proves an inflection point in violence for D.C.—which was once known as “the murder capital”—remains to be seen. Over the past 20 years, crime has dramatically gone down.
Lanier and Bowser will hold a public meeting on crime tomorrow, at the former Malcolm X Elementary School (1351 Alabama Ave. SE).
Photo by Darrow Montgomery. Screenshots from MPD email.