During the COVID-19 pandemic, Washington, D.C., officials could safely say the nation’s capital was not alone in struggling to reduce deadly gun violence. More than halfway through this year, killings in D.C. are surging toward numbers not seen in two decades, while homicides are dropping in other major cities, including New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and Baltimore, reports the Washington Post. Officials and criminologists say it is difficult to pinpoint why the city is an outlier. Leaders in other cities where homicides have dropped say they are struggling with the same problems as the capital, including smaller police forces, difficulty recruiting and retaining officers and frustrations over progressive policies they see as allowing more criminal defendants to go free. Many of the cities also have crime-fighting strategies similar to D.C.’s, with police focusing on seizing illegal firearms and targeting the places with concentrated violence.
D.C. has unique challenges that experts say could explain why rising crime has persisted this year. Though D.C. runs its police department, federal authorities run most other parts of the criminal justice system, including prosecutors, courts, prisons and offender supervision. Local and federal leaders sometimes find themselves at odds. The city has been slow to recover from the pandemic, with relatively few returning to offices in some places, leaving parts of downtown feeling deserted. “The reason we are seeing homicide rates coming down is the unraveling of the conditions that brought the rates up to their highest points during the pandemic,” said Richard Rosenfeld, a criminologist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. “But if that unraveling has been slower in D.C., we wouldn’t expect that city to have the same declines.” D.C. has recorded 166 homicides this year, compared with 131 at this time last year, up 27 percent. Shootings are up 20 percent, and more juveniles have been killed so far this year than in all of 2022. Homicides are down about 24 percent in nearby Baltimore, which could end 2023 with under 300 killings for the first time since the riots over Freddie Gray’s death in police custody in 2015. Other cities with rising homicides include Kansas City, which is on pace for a record-breaking annual count, Cleveland and Memphis. Acting D.C. police chief Pamela Smith blamed a proliferation of illegal firearms for the rise in violence. Officers have confiscated 1,809 guns this year, outpacing 2022.