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Government and People
HOMICIDE REDUCTION STRATEGY FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
Metropolitan Police Department United States Attorney's
Office for the District of Columbia
TABLE OF CONTENTS
This memorandum describes a comprehensive strategy that the law enforcement partners in the District of Columbia have adopted and implemented to address our most significant crime problem -- the consistently high number of homicides in the Nation's Capital. This strategy is being implemented in conjunction with other initiatives and programs -- such as the Hot Spots Initiative (described below) -- that are addressing the violent crime problem with different tools and techniques.
In developing this Homicide Reduction Strategy, we examined the historical and current trends in homicide incidence and found that a disproportionate number of these homicides (1) are committed within a limited number of neighborhoods in the city and (2) are committed by young men who are members of loose-knit violent groups within those neighborhoods. To address this problem, we devised a strategy that targets our crime suppression and deterrence efforts in those neighborhoods and against those violent neighborhood-based groups.
This strategy has the following five components:
With our implementation of this strategy, the law enforcement community in the District of Columbia has positioned itself to achieve a lasting reduction in the homicide rate that has plagued our city for so long.
The District of Columbia has suffered from a high homicide rate for the past 15 years. While the homicide rate remained fairly constant and on a par with other similarly-sized cities through the 1980s, it exploded with the introduction of crack cocaine and the resulting "crack wars" in the early 1990s. Between 1990 and 1995, 2,643 people were murdered in the District of Columbia -averaging well over 400 deaths per year. This carnage gave the District of Columbia the unfortunate distinction of being labeled the "murder capital" of the United States.
In response, federal and city law enforcement agencies have undertaken a number of initiatives to target the city's most violent criminals over the years. Among these initiatives are the following:
As part of the Project Safe Neighborhoods initiative, the USAO, MPD, Court Services and Offenders Agency (CSOSA), and the Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia (DC-OAG) began a neighborhood-based crime suppression and deterrence program. This program is designed to identify the most violent neighborhoods in the city; target and apprehend the most violent groups and criminals in those neighborhoods; and use the example of their prosecution and incarceration to deter groups in other neighborhoods from resorting to similar violence.
This effort was recently concluded in the Sursum Corda neighborhood, and we have begun similar efforts in several other neighborhoods. Since we have adopted this approach -- and expanded upon it -- in this strategy, we will discuss its logistics in more detail below in the Suppression and Deterrence sections of this memorandum. See Sections V.A. and V.B, infra.
Law enforcement efforts in D.C. have succeeded in bringing the homicide rate down from a peak of 454 murders in 1993, to 248 murders in 2003, to 198 murders in 2004. While the 20032004 homicide rate is a significant improvement, it remains a relatively high per capita murder rate among major cities with similar populations.
Moreover, while the total number of victims per annum has decreased, the percentage of child victims has remained alarmingly high. In 2004, 24 juveniles were murdered in Washington, D.C., up from 12 juvenile victims the year before. Ballou Senior High School alone lost three of its students to violence this past year, including one who was shot to death in a school hallway between class periods. The following is an excerpt from one of many news stories about the increase in youth homicides:
May 5. 2004
These juvenile deaths have continued throughout the year, each one as tragic and meaningless as the last.
In addition to juvenile murders, we have seen an increase in the number of shootings in which uninvolved bystanders have been killed by exchanges of gunfire between warring gangs or criminal groups.
July 5. 2004
The phenomenon of random killings of innocent bystanders is devastating to a community. If gun-play becomes so common that innocent bystanders are at risk, law-abiding citizens lose confidence in law enforcement and start to disengage from their neighborhood, thereby leading to its decline. We cannot allow that corrosive process to take hold in our neighborhoods.
IV. THE PROBLEM: VIOLENCE BY NEIGHBORHOOD-BASED GROUPS
An analysis of crime statistics and trends reveals the following two characteristics of violent crime in the District of Columbia: (1) a disproportionate number of the District's murders occur in a limited number of neighborhoods; and (2) a large percentage of these murders are committed by members of loose-knit groups or "crews" of offenders within each neighborhood who identify themselves by their affiliation with that neighborhood.
This trend has been borne out by the findings of a statistical study commissioned by the Project Safe Neighborhood partnership. This Homicide Incident Review analyzed the affiliations and motives behind the District's murders and determined that neighborhood group dynamics play a central role in violence in this city. Sixty-one percent of all murder suspects and almost 40% of all victims were members of identifiable street groups or "crews," most of which were small, low-order organizations with little formal structure. A large percentage of these murders were linked to "beefs" between individuals and neighborhood-based groups over turf and "respect."
This trend has been confirmed by the work done by David Kennedy, Senior Researcher at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. Professor Kennedy has significant experience studying violent crime, and he is nationally known for his work on the Boston Gun Project. When he started his work in Boston in the 1990s, homicides had doubled in number and youth homicides were averaging over 44 per year. Professor Kennedy and the Boston Police Department undertook to identify the offenders, and they ultimately determined that 60% of the homicides were being committed by group members who were active in only 8.1% of the city's neighborhoods.
This finding of a concentrated incidence of murders was further confirmed by the success that Boston achieved when it focused its resources and attention on the relatively small number of violent, group-involved youth whom they had identified. Between 1996 and 1998, Boston experienced a 60% reduction in youth homicides. Similar targeted enforcement efforts have produced positive results in Indianapolis, Indiana and Rochester, New York.
This research and these statistics convinced the law enforcement partners in the District of Columbia that we needed to target our operations and resources against those neighborhood-based groups that are committing so many of the city's homicides. We all recognized that the above-listed law enforcement initiatives, while successful in lowering the homicide rate considerably, did not provide the comprehensive approach that is necessary to neutralize permanently the threat posed by these violent groups. To meet that need, we devised and agreed upon a joint strategy.
This Homicide Reduction Strategy builds upon the neighborhood enforcement approach that the FBI Safe Streets Task Force has used so successfully over the years. It also builds upon the fine work that the MPD, the USAO, the DC-OAG - and CSOSA began through Project Safe Neighborhoods. Under this strategy, we are expanding the Project Safe Neighborhoods approach into a permanent and regularized law enforcement process and extending its reach with a commitment to join the effort by the FBI, DEA, ATF and the United States Marshals Service (USMS).
The essence of this strategy is the coordinated, pro-active application of law enforcement authority, and it requires the cooperation of the Department of Justice and District of Columbia agencies involved in law enforcement. It was adopted upon agreement of each contributing agency, and its implementation is being coordinated by a Steering Committee comprised of representatives of each core participating agency-- the MPD, FBI, DEA, ATF, USAO, USMS, CSOSA and the DCOAG -- and chaired by the Chief of the Metropolitan Police Department.
This comprehensive Homicide Reduction Strategy includes the following five components:
As explained above, this Homicide Reduction Strategy draws from the current Project Safe Neighborhoods program in that it calls for identifying the most violence-plagued neighborhood and focusing MPD attention and personnel on the violent actors in that neighborhood. However, it goes beyond the current Project Safe Neighborhoods program by (1) including the Department of Justice agencies as investigative partners and (2) devoting investigative and prosecutive personnel to each neighborhood long enough to catch those particularly dangerous criminals who often cannot be investigated and apprehended in the few months that the MPD is able to devote to each neighborhood. These enhancements to the program allow us to undertake the comprehensive neighborhood investigations that are necessary to break the cycle of group violence that plagues so many neighborhoods in our city.
The suppression component of our strategy proceeds in the following stages:
a. Intelligence-Based Targeting. We have a standing intelligence process for determining which of the troubled city neighborhoods should be the subject of this homicide reduction effort. We have convened a series of "Group Audits" in which we assemble MPD officers and USAO prosecutors who work in particular police districts. They share information about the groups that are responsible for the violence in the neighborhoods within that district. They also review other information, including the following:
Based on their review of this data, the Group Audit participants make recommendations to the Steering Committee about which neighborhood groups to target, and they formulate lists of the violent individuals in those groups who should receive investigative attention.
Every two weeks, the Steering Committee of principals and other staff from the USAO, CSOSA, DC-OAG, MPD, ATF, DEA and the FBI meet at MPD Headquarters. They review the recommendations and results from the Group Audits, and they select the neighborhoods for upcoming neighborhood projects.
b. Staffing of the Neighborhood Project. Upon selection of a neighborhood, each participating agency commits the following manpower to that neighborhood project:
c. Targeting of Violent Offenders. The Group Audit participants use the intelligence sources identified above to develop a list of those criminals who are responsible for the violence in that neighborhood.
d. Focused Operations. The following occurs in the first 90 to 120 days of a neighborhood project:
e. Long-Term Investigation. Making a show of force and taking a number of criminals off the street has an immediate impact on the neighborhood. Often, however, more laborious and in-depth investigation is necessary to make cases against the most violent criminals in the neighborhood. This is the job of the Neighborhood Team.
The Neighborhood Team's first -- and greatest -- challenge is to develop witnesses who can testify against these violent individuals. Because of the understandable fear and reluctance to testify against such persons, we often cannot find voluntary witnesses, and must instead develop witnesses out of defendants who agree to cooperate for consideration in their own criminal cases. The focused operations stage provides the opportunity for developing such witnesses. The arrests resulting from the take-down generate an abundance of potential cooperators, and it is the Neighborhood Team's job to seize this opportunity. The detectives and agents interview all arrestees who are willing to talk to them, and the prosecutor approaches each arrestee's attorney regarding a possible cooperation agreement.
f. Prosecution. While the apprehension and incarceration of the most violent neighborhood offenders is the overriding objective in all of these operations, the type of criminal charges used to accomplish that objective varies from neighborhood to neighborhood and from offender to offender. In some neighborhoods, it is appropriate to indict numerous offenders in an over-arching racketeering conspiracy case. In others, it makes more sense simply to develop a number of stand-alone cases that can incapacitate offenders one by one. Regardless of which method is used, the focus is on getting the offenders off the street in the most effective and expeditious manner. The Neighborhood Team members decide which approach to take in each neighborhood, and the team remains intact and continues to work on that neighborhood through completion of the prosecutions they generate.
While this law enforcement strategy for homicide suppression draws from prior and existing initiatives, it takes us beyond those initiatives by establishing a regularized and comprehensive process for addressing neighborhood-based violence. This approach has the following benefits:
a. Consistent Engagement of DOJ Agencies. The DOJ law enforcement agencies historically have not been uniform in their contribution to street law enforcement in the District of Columbia. For many years, the FBI, through its Safe Streets Task Force, was the only DOJ agency taking a large role in the group-based violence efforts in the city. In recent years, we have seen more DEA and ATF participation, as evidenced by the deployment of DEA's MET Team and ATF's Violent Crime Impact Team in the District. While these efforts are having a positive impact on the city, none is permanent and each is subject to being discontinued or diverted at any time. This strategy ensures the continued and coordinated engagement of the federal agencies in this type of enforcement.
b. Mechanism for Inter-Agency Coordination and Resource Allocation. Historically, there has been no regularized mechanism for deciding where and how to deploy law enforcement resources against violent neighborhood groups. We have not had a forum in which the relevant federal and city agencies jointly decide which neighborhood most urgently needs law enforcement attention. The decision to start a particular group investigation has often been determined by factors such as the occurrence of a high-profile crime in a neighborhood, or the fact that a particularly enterprising detective or agent has been active in that neighborhood. It typically has not been based on an intelligence-based finding that group-related violent crime is more prevalent in that neighborhood than in others. This strategy puts structure into that process. Every two or three months, the Steering Committee will select a neighborhood based on intelligence and crime-trend data showing that it suffers a high incidence of group-based violence.
c. Intelligence Integration. Law enforcement agencies in the District of Columbia -- including the USAO -- have never achieved a level of coordination in our intelligence operations that matches the strong coordination of our law enforcement operations on the street. By establishing a joint process for developing the intelligence that the Steering Committee will use to make its targeting decision, this strategy encourages the participating agencies to share their information and coordinate their intelligence functions.
d. Comprehensive Approach to Enforcement. As explained above, previous attempts to address neighborhood-based violence have often been too short-lived to catch the most serious criminal actors in a neighborhood. Historically, we have had no continuing investigative presence in a neighborhood after the MPD conducts its take-down and redeploys its personnel elsewhere. Therefore, we have had no capacity to capture and exploit the intelligence and cooperation available from those arrested in the take-down. This strategy addresses this deficiency by ensuring that the Neighborhood Team remains in place to convert that intelligence and potential cooperation into prosecutable cases against the neighborhood's most violent criminals.
These focused operations have a dramatic impact on the level of violent crime in a particular neighborhood. In addition, these operations and their effect on the offenders in that neighborhood can have an impact on other neighborhoods that suffer from group-based violence.
To have that impact, we need a process that broadcasts the lesson that violent neighborhood groups can expect a coalition of federal and MPD personnel to descend on their neighborhoods and lock up the violent offenders. The process we have adopted is known as "The Call-In Program." This program, which entails calling offenders together to hear a deterrence message, was designed by Professor Kennedy and has already been successfully implemented in several other cities.
This deterrence program is predicated on the effectiveness of our suppression efforts. Before initiating a call-in, we undertake a neighborhood project and apprehend many of the violent crew members in that neighborhood. We then use the example of this neighborhood project as a deterrence message to other violent individuals. We do that in the following steps:
We recently concluded the first call-in cycle in the District of Columbia. The sweep took place in Sursum Corda, a chronically-violent neighborhood several blocks north of Union Station that was the site of the highly-publicized murder of 14-year-old Princess Hansen on January 23, 2004. Over the course of a week in December, we executed four search warrants, indicted 14 defendants on federal narcotics and conspiracy charges, and arrested 13 others on Superior Court charges (with three warrants outstanding). Those arrests brought to 39 the total number of identified violent offenders -- in addition to approximately 400 other criminal defendants --who were arrested in Sursum Corda since the MPD initiated targeted operations there in the aftermath of the Princess Hansen murder.
On January 13, 2005, we held our first call-in of 43 probation and parole supervisees. The supervisees filed into Courtroom 5 of the United States Courthouse and sat down facing a line of law enforcement principals from MPD, USAO, FBI, ATF, DEA, CSOSA, the D.C. Housing Police, the DC-OAG, the USMS, the U. S. Parole Commission and the U.S. Probation Office in the District of Columbia. U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton called the proceedings to order. He took roll, requesting that CSOSA seek bench warrants for the three supervisees who failed to appear, and delivered heartfelt remarks about personal responsibility and the need for positive role models for our youth. Judge Walton then retired to chambers, and the law enforcement principals took over and delivered the deterrence message, followed by a separate presentation by clergy members and social services representatives.
It is still too early to assess whether the call-in program will have the same success it has had in Boston, Rochester and Indianapolis. Gauging from the sober looks on the attendees' faces, however, it appeared that our warning -- and the message that law enforcement is unified in its determination to stamp out violence in this city -- got through loud and clear.
In order to sustain a reduction in homicides, the law enforcement community is conducting extensive intervention efforts through a comprehensive network of community-based programs and initiatives. This effort spreads the anti-violence message, particularly to at-risk youth, and offers meaningful and viable alternatives to violence. The following lists a few examples of our intervention efforts throughout the city:
1. Anti-Violence Media Campaign. In April 2005, the Project Safe Neighborhoods partnership launches the first phase of a media campaign, designed to heighten awareness of gun crime and its consequences. The campaign features four print advertisements targeting both the general community and the offender population. The campaign, supported by a $50,000 donation of Public Service Advertising space, will consist of 30 large signs in Metro transit stations, 50 bus taillight signs and 500 interior bus placards. In addition, the ads will be produced as posters and palmcards for mass distribution throughout the city.
A second phase of the media campaign -- to include print, radio and television -- is planned for this summer, and will build upon the themes and feedback from the first phase. We plan to profile several of the high-profile gang prosecutions -- such as the Kevin Gray, Tommy Edelin, and Rayful Edmond crew cases -- and feature members of those crews who will be spending the rest of their lives in prison as a result of their violent conduct.
2. Project L.E.A.D. The USAO currently teaches a year-long anti-violence curriculum entitled Project L.E.A.D. to over 350 fifth grade students in 17 District of Columbia Schools. Each week, teams of AUSAs and other USAO staff teach classes on a variety of subjects ranging from gang participation and drug use to peer pressure and self-esteem.
3. Weed and Seed. The Weed and Seed Program offers viable alternatives to crime through tutoring, mentoring, and recreational programs in its three Weed and Seed Sites in the city. Currently, Weed and Seed Safe Havens in each of our sites serve youth through after-school programs, summer camps and midnight basketball tournaments. In partnership with the MPD and the D.C. National Guard, the USAO also hosts the Weed and Seed Drug Education for Youth ("DEFY') Program, which provides a residential summer camp and a nine-month intensive tutoring and mentoring program for approximately 60 children between the ages of 9 and 12 who reside in Weed and Seed neighborhoods.
4. CSOSA Offender Orientations. CSOSA requires all offenders who are new to probation and parole supervision to attend a group orientation. This orientation reviews the terms and conditions of their release and reinforces the CSOSA credo of offender accountability. The offenders are told, in no uncertain terms, that CSOSA will hold them accountable if they return to a life of crime.
5. Partnership with Survivor and Activist Groups. The USAO, MPD and DC-OAG have a strong relationship with survivor groups, such as Survivors of Homicide, and activist groups that are dedicated to violence reduction, such as No Murders D.C. and Reaching Out To Others (ROOT). These groups represent diverse perspectives and are an essential part of community outreach.
6. Gang Intervention Partnership. The MPD has joined forces with the Latino community to establish the Gang Intervention Partnership (GIP) to fight gang violence in the Columbia Heights Weed and Seed site. GIP was created after a spate of gang-related homicides and violence that victimized both gang members and innocent bystanders. GIP members assist the MPD and the USAO with the identification, apprehension and prosecution of individuals who are actively involved in gang violence. They have also implemented innovative suppression and intervention strategies, such as: disrupting "skipping parties" where Latino gangs recruit young boys and girls; follow-up on truancy, runaways, tagging, tattooing and other early indicators of gang participation; conflict resolution and mediation strategies aimed at defusing tensions among rival gangs; and provision of a range of programs and resources for individuals who are being recruited for, or are currently involved in, gang activity.
On those occasions where suppression, deterrence and intervention fail to head off a killing-as happened 198 times in 2004 -- it is critically important that law enforcement is equipped to identify and apprehend the killer. Most of the homicide investigations in this city are conducted by the Violent Crimes Branch of the MPD. That branch, which was previously called the Homicide Branch, has a storied tradition of professionalism and dedication. After going through a period of change and some dislocation, the Violent Crimes Branch is now experiencing a revitalization under the leadership of Chief Charles H. Ramsey and his officials.
Chief Ramsey has undertaken several important steps over the past few years to improve the MPD's homicide investigations, including the following:
These reforms are steadily improving MPD's homicide investigative capacity. To supplement this effort, Department of Justice components are providing assistance in several areas:
We will have a lasting impact on violence in this city only if we can translate MPD's homicide investigations into successful prosecutions that send murderers to prison and deter others from violence. As the chief prosecutor in the District of Columbia, the USAO has a duty to do everything in its power to convict guilty homicide defendants.
The USAO recently changed its organizational structure for that very purpose. On October 4, 2004, the Office created two new sections -- the Homicide Section and the Major Crimes Section -- out of the previously combined Homicide/Major Crimes Section. The new Homicide Section is staffed with approximately 30 of the most experienced violent crime prosecutors, who focus exclusively on the demanding task of investigating, preparing and litigating homicide cases.
The creation of a separate and more experienced Homicide Section has improved the USAO's capability to prosecute murders in a number of important ways. It puts our homicide cases in the hands of the most experienced and most highly-qualified prosecutors in the Superior Court Division. It ensures that these cases receive the careful and sustained attention they require. With their caseloads limited to murder cases, which are afforded ample pre-indictment and pretrial intervals under the bail statute, Homicide Section prosecutors have the time to conduct the probing grand jury work and thorough trial preparation necessary to prosecute homicides successfully. It enhances coordination with MPD by creating a single group of homicide prosecutors who work closely and daily with the newly-consolidated MPD homicide detectives. Finally, by creating a group of homicide specialists, this organizational change permits the Homicide Section prosecutors to develop expertise in the distinctive demands and nuances of homicide prosecution.
In adopting these changes, the USAO also is continuing to develop its community prosecution effort, which reflects its overarching objective to be more responsive to the communities it serves. In most sections throughout the Superior Court Division, the USAO assigns cases by MPD Districts so that prosecutors better understand the residents, the problems and the needs of the neighborhoods they serve. The USAO also established a Community Prosecution/Intake Section and appointed a Community Intelligence Counsel to continue to expand our community outreach effort and to collect and disseminate the information we receive from the community and from the daily case intake process.
The incidence of homicide in the District of Columbia calls for bold and comprehensive action by the law enforcement community. We have responded with a strategy that attacks the problem from all fronts and builds upon the fine efforts that have already cut the homicide rate in half over the past decade.
This strategy is making a difference. The combined approach of suppression and deterrence through the ongoing cycle of focused operations and call-ins is having a targeted impact on the city's most violent neighborhoods. Our engagement in an array of intervention programs is helping to turn individuals away from a life of violence. Finally, the enhancement of our performance in homicide investigation and prosecution is ensuring that those who engage in deadly violence will be brought to justice and incapacitated with lengthy prison terms.
We are proud of this comprehensive strategy, and we have all committed our resources and attention to it for the long term. We also are proud of the law enforcement partnership that underlies this effort. We expect that our partnership and our sustained focus on this strategy will lower the homicide rate and save many lives in our Nation's Capital.
1. We also explore other options for disrupting the activities of criminals in that neighborhood. For example, we coordinate with the District of Columbia Housing Authority to evict offenders from public housing in that neighborhood. We also disseminate information regarding conditions of release (such as stay-away orders) for offenders in that neighborhood who are on release pending court proceedings or under supervision by CSOSA; this information can provide the basis for arrest by an officer who witnesses the violation of those conditions.
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