We got some good, and highly anticipated, news yesterday. Our city’s murder rate went down: 25% from last year’s 186 murders. The official number for 2009 was 140 143 homicides in a population of 600,000 people—a homicide rate of 23.33 murders per 100,000 people.
Our homicide rate is still high. But, 2009 was a mind-boggling improvement from 1991 when there were 479 murders in DC. There were 606,900 people in DC that year (1990 Census) for an almost unbelievable rate of 78.92 murders per 100,000 people. This was the period of gang-led crack cocaine wars in many large U.S. cities.
Now, I am going to rain, lightly and briefly, on the “DC’s murder rate is down again” parade. The spin on the vastly improved homicide numbers for 2009 (which the Washington Post picks up) is that this is the fewest homicides since 1964 when there were 132. But, in 1964 DC had 763,000 people (1960 census), which means the homicide rate that year was 17.3 per 100,000 people. We have a murder rate today that is 35% higher than it was 45 years ago.
But, the Post does quote Councilmember Phil Mendelson and notes that DC’s homicide rate is still far above other large U.S. cities:
D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), head of the public safety and judiciary committee, said that Lanier should get some credit for the decreasing crime but that the homicide rate is still elevated. Last year, the District had 23 killings per 100,000 people. In safer big cities, such as New York, the rate is at an all-time low: six per 100,000.
“Another way of looking at the good news is the rate is too high compared to other cities,” Mendelson said. “If we were to have the same rate as New York City, we would have less than 40 a year.”
These numbers were pointed out to Mr. Mendelson at the December 14 Shaw crime meeting. In fairness, it was obvious that he was well aware of the fact that DC’s rate is hideously high compared to New York and other major cities.
So, yes, if 140 murders can be good news, then this was reason to be happy. The murder rate in DC is going down and it went down sharply last year. The police deserve credit, a lot of it. My only concern is that we as a city may be thinking about hanging up a “Mission Accomplished” sign and think we now longer have a murder problem in DC.
But, to end this post on a more upbeat note, here are DC homicides per year, 1989 to 2009. The comparisons from the 1990s compared to 2009 are staggering:
- 2009: 140
- 2008: 186
- 2007: 181
- 2006: 169
- 2005: 196
- 2004: 198
- 2003: 248
- 2002: 262
- 2001: 232
- 2000: 242 (572,059 people, 2000 Census)
- 1999: 241
- 1998: 260
- 1997: 301
- 1996: 397
- 1995: 361
- 1994: 399
- 1993: 454
- 1992: 443
- 1991: 479
- 1990: 472 (606,900 people, 1990 census)
- 1989: 434