DC area’s 2020 rise in crime rate of ‘grave concern’

Crime in the D.C. region rose last year to a level that’s of “grave concern,” one area police chief said on Wednesday.

Laurel, Maryland, Police Chief Russell Hamill, the chair of the Police Chief Committee of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, presented the numbers in his committee’s annual report.

The report found that criminal offenses in the National Capital Region in 2020 were up 8.4% over 2019, with violent crime up 28.6%.

Hamill said the increases were in line with the numbers nationwide. He added that overall crime and property crime were still down from 2017, and added that, “There’s no clear evidence yet to indicate that the five-year trend of property crime and violent crime declining is being fully reversed.”

Hamill said the increase could be attributed to several factors.

The COVID-19 pandemic “peeled back some deep issues and deep concerns” in society, as well as cutting into training and staffing levels, Hamill said. It’s also had a more direct effect, he said: “The No. 1 killer of police officers has been COVID-19.”

Hamill added that “the current climate involving law enforcement, including calls for defunding and certain legislative initiatives … have made retention and recruitment efforts even more challenging than in the recent past.” And the kind of community outreach that has helped build trust in the community has also been hampered by the pandemic, Hamill said.

“I’m hopeful as we come out of this and get back to normalcy that we’ll see a natural decline back toward the trend we had since 2017,” Hamill said. “But we’ve seen, to a degree, a vilification of policing. And for us, that has made matters difficult in re-garnering community trust.”

He added, “Implementing President Obama’s 21st Century Policing report … led to us being able to better connect and drive crime down. And I think as we come out of the pandemic, we’ll see those efforts redoubled and being fruitful for us.”

Falls Church City Council member David Snyder called it, “A truly alarming report despite the diplomatic language. We are going in the exact wrong direction in terms of crime.”

When Fairfax County Supervisors Vice Chair Penelope Gross asked Hamill about how jurisdictions can “backfill” as officers reach retirement age in growing communities, Hamill pointed to mental and emotional support, as well as money.

“You carry a lot of trauma” being a police officer, Hamill said, and “embracing the idea of health and wellness [would] erase the stigma” of those effects.

He added, “You’re not coming into these professions to get rich, but you should have a living wage. … I think those are things that COG can look at and embrace.”

Rick Massimo

Rick Massimo came to WTOP, and to Washington, in 2013 after having lived in Providence, R.I., since he was a child. He's the author of "A Walking Tour of the Georgetown Set" and "I Got a Song: A History of the Newport Folk Festival."

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