DC crime dropped in recent months; top cop knows it doesn’t seem like it

At the start of the year, crime spiked in the District.

Through May 31, violent crime was up 17% compared with 2021. Murders were up 8%. Robberies were up 41%. D.C. leaders were bracing for things to get even worse at the start of the summer.

But since June 1, crime has actually gone down. In some cases, by a lot.

“We’re at a 4% overall reduction in crime,” police Chief Robert Contee told the D.C. Council, looking at 2022 vs. 2021. Compared with 2019, before the pandemic, crime is down 19%, including an 8% reduction in overall violent crime.

That’s even after robberies shot up 41% over the first five months of the year. Contee credits a lot of different factors to the decline in recent months — everything from anti-violence programs the District runs to changes in policing strategy, and even the idea that “some of the right people got locked up.”

But does the city feel safer? Contee admitted it does not.

“It’s the feeling that people have of being unsafe, and that has to be acknowledged,” Contee said Tuesday.

That fear, he said, is being driven by the fact that when crimes do occur, a gun is increasingly involved.

“This is what scares the hell out of people,” said Contee.

Compared with last year, the District’s murder rate might be down, but assaults with a dangerous weapon are up 4%. Armed robberies are up 23%, having climbed well over 1,000 this year. Those figures only apply to incidents in which a gun was involved.

“It’s not just [the] snatching of the purse, it’s putting a gun in somebody’s face and robbing them, and that’s what people feel. That’s what people fear. That’s what people see in communities day in and day out,” said Contee.

Throughout D.C., gun crimes are down in Wards 1 and 3 and up everywhere else.

“As we look at crime, it’s not just looking at crime and saying, ‘Oh we have less crime than what we had the previous year.’ The crimes that we are having, people are upping the ante,” said Contee. “The bad guys are upping the ante and introducing firearms to these different crime scenes that we oftentimes find ourselves responding to.”

When it comes to gunshot victims, Contee said the percentage of people shot who end up dying has stayed relatively the same since 2020. But more people are getting shot, even if they’re surviving, and Contee attributed that to simple “marksmanship.”

“A bullet a centimeter to the left, a centimeter to the right, could be the difference between a homicide and an (assault with a deadly weapon),” said the chief. Pointing in particular to the 4-year-old shot Monday night, Contee said “a centimeter to the left or the right would have been a difference in that crime scene, I assure you. And we’d be having a different conversation in the community about that.”

He also noted that homicide victims and suspects tend to have been arrested, on average, 11 times before that homicide happened. But his point is, despite all that, it’s hard to tell someone that perception isn’t reality.

“We still have a lot of work to do, period,” said Contee. “It’s very important to acknowledge what people feel in the community. And that’s not just here in Washington, D.C. It’s what people feel in Silver Spring, Maryland. It’s what people feel in Virginia.

“When you have people who are not afraid to use these types of weapons (guns, including those modified to fire automatic rounds) in the community, that’s the thing that scares people the most,” said Contee.

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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