Violent crime ebbed last year after a pandemic-era peak in most major U.S. cities. During the same stretch, Washington, D.C., experienced its biggest surge in homicides in decades, with 274 lives lost, as law enforcement struggled to stem the killing
Although the city's police staffing ratio outpaces other urban areas, its rate of solving homicides dropped to 52%, 10 points lower than in 2022.
Local crime experts said the city's surging homicide rate requires the community's full attention.
“There's no question that (it's) alarming,” said David Muhammad of the National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform, reports USA Today.
Amos Gelb, founder and publisher of D.C. Witness, a non-profit organization that tracks the city's criminal justice system, said, "You speak to the communities, and there is incredible frustration this can’t be resolved."
The rise in homicides has made Washington an outlier. The nation's five largest cities saw a decline in killings last year. From 2022 to 2023, homicide totals dropped 11.9% in New York City, 16.4% in Los Angeles, 13% in Chicago, 20% in Houston and 22% in Phoenix. ide after pandemic surge
During the first two years of the pandemic, many cities saw a sharp rise in violent crime, Ames Grawert of the Brennan Center's Justice Program, said the shutdown of public spaces and services may have contributed to the problem.
"Local public spaces like libraries closed," he said. "Programs that we know are important to community safety, like violence intervention programs, cognitive behavioral therapy programs – things like that either closed or became significantly less effective, because you have to do those things face to face."
As schools, businesses and community services came back, urban crime rates declined, with a few glaring exceptions.
In D.C., Muriel Bowser vowed to bring police officer numbers up to 4,000. The department had reached its lowest staffing level in two decades in 2022. In April, the mayor rolled out a $5,000 increase in hiring bonuses for new police recruits. Her budget for fiscal year 2024 includes $5.4 million in bonuses for new police hires.