By Richard Simon
4:22 PM EST, January 1, 2013
WASHINGTON — The District of Columbia, once known as the nation’s murder capital, ended 2012 with fewer than 100 homicides for the first time since 1963.
The city recorded 88 homicides, down from the more than 400 a year it saw from 1989 through 1993 amid a crack cocaine epidemic. The decline reflects the trend in many other cities, though Chicago surpassed 500 homicides, the highest annual total since 2008.
Homicide Watch D.C., which tracks killings in the city, put the number at 92 because it included four cases ruled self-defense and not included in the police department count. That still would put the number below the 95 homicides recorded in 1963.
In 1961, there were 88 homicides, according to a police spokeswoman. The district recorded 108 homicides in 2011. D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier attributed the reduction to a combination of factors, including increased focus on guns and gangs and investment in technology.
Since the department’s gang intelligence unit began operating in 2008, "we have not seen the retaliatory shootings like we used to," the chief said through a spokeswoman. While there are still times when getting information is a challenge, we are getting more information than I have experienced in 23 years,’’ the chief said. "We have developed trusting relationships with our communities, and that pays off."
Kristopher Baumann, head of D.C. police union, said that while his organization was pleased with the decline in homicides, it was concerned about the rise in other violent crimes.
"Instead of taking the time to pat ourselves on the back and talk about how homicides are down, we need to focus on the fact that ... other assaults are up," he said. "That raises questions about what are we not doing that we should be doing."
A spokeswoman for the police chief responded that while the department expected to finish 2012 with a "slight increase in violent crime, we have had reductions in violent crime each year for the last several years."