Washington, D.C., had the most homicides per capita of any of the nation’s largest cities last year, the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report for 2002 shows. The Washington Post says that D.C. ranked third, behind Detroit and Baltimore, for its rate of violent crime, which includes homicides, assaults, rapes and robberies.
Although the crime rate in the nation’s capital is lower than it was a decade ago, a spate of violence this year, including warfare among emerging street gangs and last week’s fatal shooting of a student outside a high school, has generated increasing pressure on police and city officials. Mayor Anthony A. Williams calls the crime problem “a slow-moving disaster in our city.” The D.C. police department is in the third month of an emergency anti-crime program.
Washington’s homicide total rose 14 percent last year, to 264, while the number of violent crimes dropped by 8 percent. The Post notes that the capital has remained near the top in homicides and violent acts per capita partly because violence has declined nationwide.
Joanne Savage, an American University criminologist said that “in the long term, we’re doing quite well.” She added that “some cities have never seen rates like what our low point is.” A leading theory of why Washington has remained more violent than other big cities is that D.C. has a higher concentration of poor people.
Analysts have called the label “murder capital” unfair because Washington’s small geographic size skewed the numbers upward when compared with cities whose boundaries include low-crime, suburban-style communities.
Washington Police Chief Charles Ramsey, Chicago’s former police commissioner, said, “There were pockets of Chicago that were very much like the District, but there was [also] a very, very large, stable middle class, and that’s something that we just don’t have in the District.” Citing
the sharp divide between rich and poor in the capital, he said, “it just seems like people are on one side of the scale or another, with nothing in between.”