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In late August, the Examiner published a piece arguing that the District’s low homicide rate might be due to the cooler-than-usual summer temps. The story was one of the dumbest crime stories we’ve ever read. Even D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier called the lower-temp theory “idiotic.” But the story did at least provoke a little attention on the police department’s stunning successes and the city’s big drop in murders. When Lanier speculated that the city could see fewer than 100 homicides for the year, she wasn’t laughed out of town. Of course, the District’s perps did not cooperate.
As of today, there have been 106 homicides. At this point last year, there were 148 homicides. The plummeting homicide rate is still quite impressive. So why is the District experiencing such a huge drop?
In September, Lanier may have squandered some goodwill by stubbornly sticking by and fighting for her All Hands On Deck program. She would do well to let that program drop. It is certainly not worth the money and the on-going petty court fight. In talking with police brass about the drop in homicides, no one mentioned AHOD is a factor. Lanier has initiated a number of other crime-fighting strategies that have both paid off and netted support from the rank-and-file.
Assistant Chief Peter Newsham, who is in charge of the Investigative Services Bureau, attributes the homicide drop to a series of Lanier-endorsed initiatives from IT upgrades to personnel moves to a push to investigate not only fatal shootings but non-fatal shootings. “One thing [detectives] are trying to focus on is shootings that don’t result in homicides,” Newsham explains, “trying to ID [the perp] even when nobody is struck, what the cause of the shooting was, where the victims are from, what types of associations [they may have].”
Sounds of gunshots actually gets a serious response from police. “Even if they don’t find anything, we still track that,” says Lt. Wilfredo Manlapaz of the homicide branch. “We look at that—-especially the chief and patrol commanders. They may deploy officers there to find out if it’s true, call intelligence officers out there to find out if there is some type of crew beef. If there’s a known crew out there, based on that, who do we know that’s beefing and having a problem with this crew?”
This past Friday night’s double shooting at 13th and W Streets NW backs up this claim. Two men were shot. Both would survive their injuries. Despite their relatively minor wounds, the police were out in force guarding the crime scene as well as trying to track down the three suspects. A police helicopter roared overhead. Near the crime scene, one man was cuffed and interrogated. Detectives could also be seen interviewing potential witnesses, fanning flash lights on the pavement looking for shell casings, and patrolling nearby alleys.
The police presence was overwhelming. At one point, a detective hollered at a dude for leaning on an unmarked police car. She even got in his face about it. Talk about zero tolerance.
The other big factor Newsham cited was Lanier’s push to get homicide detectives and beat cops to share information. “The street officers know more than we do,” explains Manlapaz. “They are out there every day. We aren’t confined to specific beats. We aren’t familiar with the people in the neighborhood.”
Manlapaz says the detective-patrol-cop cooperation came into play in a December ’08 stabbing death on 14th Street in Columbia Heights. The beat cops knew the victim, knew people who may have been involved and had pictures of the possible perps. Manlapaz says he put the beat cops with the intelligence unit and the detectives.
Manlapaz continues: “It involved gang members and this came into play…. We got the nicknames from the community and passed them on to the gang unit. The beat officers knew the names already and had information—-I know that person, I know where they live, as a matter of fact I just saw them. The intelligence unit knew all of them. They went out and picked them up for us so we could interview them.”
Manlapaz says the case soon was closed with two men arrested. “We were able to piece together what happened, why it happened, and locate the suspects quickly.”
Lanier has heavily promoted and helped ease beat-cop-detective communications. How? Through roll calls, crime briefings and quarterly homicide meetings where detectives present cases to District Commanders, PSA supervisors, vice units, and selected patrol officers. Lanier has also initiated an emergency session or two when there’s been an uptick in violence.
In May, there had been three homicides within a few blocks, Manlapaz says. Lanier called a special meeting to discuss these cases. She brought “everybody together, anybody that could potentially assist with the cases.”
Assistant Chief Diane Groomes confirms this new approach. “Anytime there is a spree of violence, pattern of violence not only to include homicides but carjackings/robberies—-we gather the important segments together to listen to the cases and brainstorm on what is needed to close out the cases,” she wrote in an e-mail to City Desk. “This includes again not just command officials but those from patrols directly—-who work the streets and need this information, and we need their input.”
Groomes writes that the mission for detectives has expanded: “There is a greater cooperation and the detectives have also been given the mission to also PREVENT crime instead of just investigating it after it occurs.”
This greater cooperation between detectives and beat cops may be Lanier’s legacy. It surely will not be her much-hyped gimmicks.
*photo by Darrow Montgomery.