Thursday, Dec. 20, 2007

County homicides top count from 2006

Police say surge in early months contributed to 135 killings so far this year

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A 31-year-old man found shot to death inside his Hillcrest Heights home Sunday became the 135th person killed in Prince George’s County this year, surpassing last year’s total of 134 homicides with a little more than a week left in the year.

County police attribute the increase in homicides to a surge earlier in the year. In March, for example, 11 people were killed in as many days. The killings spurred police to create a special investigations unit that checks into killings that appear to be related.

‘‘Since then, the numbers really started to level out,” said Cpl. Diane Richardson, county police spokeswoman, crediting the new unit and increased police staffing for slowing the pace of homicides.

County residents, including State Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D-Dist. 26) of Fort Washington, voiced concern about the police department’s performance and called for it to be more proactive and open to tackle the homicide problem.

‘‘We need to know what is the plan,” Muse said. ‘‘Then we can go to Annapolis and get the money. Then we can sit down with our other law enforcement and discuss what we can all do. ... I can’t comment on a plan that we don’t have.”

Muse, founder of PG Clergy United, an activist group made up of pastors in the region that has sponsored forums to discuss county crime, said the region’s leaders need to focus on improving not just the police, but also area schools to combat the culture.

‘‘It’s a reflection of the violent society and culture in which we live,” said Muse, founder and senior pastor of Ark of Safety Christian Church in Oxon Hill. ‘‘It’s pretty hard to stop somebody from killing someone when they’ve made their mind up.”

Police Chief Melvin C. High declined comment.

The county police department was unable to give details about homicide trends in the county by press time.

Richardson said county homicide numbers are not expected to come close to 2005, when a record 173 occurred in Prince George’s.

‘‘Compared to December 2005, we’ve made tremendous progress,” Richardson said. ‘‘Our goal is to continue to get all crime down.”

Homicide numbers in neighboring jurisdictions have also increased. In Washington, the count exceeded last year’s 169 homicides in November and stood at 178 as of press time. In Montgomery County, homicides are significantly less but still saw an increase from 15 last year to 19 so far.

Prince George’s has traditionally had higher homicide rates compared to other suburban counties, which police attribute to its proximity to Southeast Washington, where roughly half of the capital’s homicides occur, and the concentrated urban areas near the border.

County police have struggled to gain control of crime along the Washington border and created a partnership with Washington police to address the problem by sharing resources and information. Richardson was unable to provide details about the results of the cross-border initiative.

County police had managed to cut the homicide rate to 134 deaths in 2006, a 21 percent reduction from 2005.

Though county homicides will be up in 2007, crime overall in Prince George’s has fallen this year.

Violent crimes, which include rapes, carjackings, armed robberies and other violent offenses, had declined according to crime statistics from September, the most recent numbers available. Property crimes, including car and home break-ins, dropped by about 1.5 percent as of September. Richardson was unable to say whether those crime statistics are currently still lower than in 2006.

About 52 percent of the homicides this year have been solved, police officials said. No suspect had been identified by press time in the death of Lamar John Mckelley, the man found shot to death Sunday.