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Posted at 3:00 PM ET, 12/ 3/2010

Fenty the crime-fighter -- put in context

By Aaron Morrissey
Homicide statistics have often been bandied about as an easily digestible, if flawed, metric of how well a mayor has battled crime during a given administration. Not surprisingly, the homicide watch in D.C. -- a city where, at one point in the late 1980s and early 90s, more than 400 people were being murdered every year -- has gotten a lot of attention during outgoing Mayor Adrian Fenty's term. Police Chief Cathy Lanier stoked additional interest in the number by proclaiming her goal to reduce the city's homicide total to under 100.

Lanier and Fenty didn't reach that goal during the mayor's term. But that hasn't stopped the media from proclaiming Fenty's excellent performance in tamping down the homicide count during his nearly four years in office. "Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) is on track to leave office Jan 2. having just achieved the fewest yearly number of homicides in decades," wrote Tim Craig on The Post's D.C. Wire blog on Nov. 10, to quote but one example. It got us to thinking: Was Mayor Fenty really more successful at whittling down homicides than his predecessors?

This PDF chart depicts the number of homicides per year since Walter Washington first assumed the role of mayor of the District of Columbia in 1975. Anyone familiar with the recent history of the city should find few surprises -- the homicide rate skyrocketed as the crack epidemic hit the area in the late 1980s but has been on a somewhat steady decline since the mid-90s. It is true that Fenty, this year, will likely oversee the city's lowest number of homicides since Washington took office. But another look at the numbers shows that Fenty's performance might not be as unprecedented as some media outlets would have you believe.

As you can see from the second chart, based on 2010 projections*, Fenty will have presided over a little over a 28 percent decrease in the number of homicides that occurred during his first year in office, 2007. This is a sizable figure, and certainly something for Fenty to brag about. But it is hardly without peer. In fact, Anthony Williams, who held office directly before Fenty, presided over a 31 percent decrease in his second term. Even Marion Barry -- who, in his third term as mayor, saw the number of homicides in the city more than double -- presided over a just short of 28 percent decrease during his fourth term, between 1995 and 1998. Walter Washington and Sharon Pratt Kelly also achieved double-digit percentage decreases in the number of homicides when they were mayor.

Examining the data another way, Fenty actually oversaw a slight uptick in homicides in his first two years in office (2007 and 2008). This is actually behind what others were able to do -- including Williams, whose second term saw four consecutive years of decreases in homicides.

So is Mayor Fenty's homicide record -- especially the fact that the murder rate is projected to be the lowest since the mid '60s -- something to be proud of? Sure. But is Fenty's performance in this admittedly narrow metric unprecedented? Not really.

*The 2010 projection of 130 homicides is based on data retrieved in November that indicated that the District was experiencing a 9.2 percent decline in homicides from 2009's total of 143. Historical homicide figures are based on data from the Metropolitan Police Department and external sources.

Aaron Morrissey blogs at DCist. The Local Blog Network is a group of bloggers from around the D.C. region who have agreed to make regular contributions to All Opinions Are Local.

By Aaron Morrissey  | December 3, 2010; 3:00 PM ET
Categories:  D.C., HotTopic, Local blog network, crime  
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I can't believe WaPo is actually printing some negative press about King Fenty! Next thing you know, they will be saying Michelle Rhee wasn't as great as everyone thought she was.

I guess the truth eventually does come to light!

Posted by: UrbanDweller | December 3, 2010 8:25 PM | Report abuse

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