News & Politics

UPDATE: Homicides On the Rise in DC

Murder rates in many major cities are dropping—but the District could be seeing an upswing.

Justin Wilson and a few friends left a homecoming party at Howard University early last Saturday morning and had stopped for cigarettes and a drink at a gas station on Florida Avenue near North Capitol Street when, police reports say, Freddy Hawkins walked up behind Wilson.

“What up with y’all?” Hawkins asked, according to Wilson. “Y’all got some money? Y’all got some pot? I smell it.”

Wilson tried to ignore Hawkins, he told police, but Hawkins pushed him and said, “I’ll take y’all shit.”

According to Wilson, Hawkins had something “bulky” in his waistband. Wilson told police he grabbed for his own handgun, and he saw Hawkins reach for something in his waistband.

Wilson told police he shot Hawkins twice. At around 1:14 AM police found Hawkins bleeding from gunshot wounds. He was pronounced dead at a local hospital.

Freddy Bernard Hawkins—28, from Northeast DC—became the 75th person murdered in Washington, DC, not including the 12 victims of the Navy Yard shootings. Two days later, police found Diallobe McDonald suffering from a stab wound on Central Place, Northeast. He was pronounced dead, bringing the number of DC homicide victims to 76 through October.

Last year at this time the city had recorded 74 homicides. For the first time since 2009, the homicide rate seems to be headed for an increase. The number stood at 186 in 2008, according to Metropolitan Police records, dropped to 144 in 2009, 132 in 2010, 108 in 2011 and 88 last year. If the murder rate doesn’t fall in the next three months, DC’s homicide rate will flatten or even rise for 2013.

That would stand in contrast to homicide rates in most major cities, where rates have continued to fall. In New York, murders were down 25 percent for the first six months of this year, according to police records. The city recorded 206 murders for the first six months of 2012 and 156 this year.

In the second week of October the New York Post ran the headline: “Death Takes a Holiday: NYC had a murder-free week.”

New York police attributed the relative drop in murders to more cops and anti-gang units.

Murders also fell in Detroit and Los Angeles. Asked why homicides dropped 12 percent in the first quarter of the year compared with 2012, then-LA mayor Antonio Villaraigosa attributed the change to more police on the streets.

Why have homicides in DC quit dropping?

“A slight increase during various times of the year does not indicate that homicides are leveling off,” DC Police chief Cathy Lanier said through a spokesperson. “We have made great strides to reduce homicides and will continue to do so. The year is not over, and we believe we are making an impact.”

DC Police Union chief Kristopher Baumann said the persistent crime rates continue to plague residents. “Treading water on a crime rate as high as the District’s is not a victory,” he told Washingtonian. “Instead, it should be a call for sweeping reform—mandatory minimums for violent offenders, immediate consequences, focusing on the victims, and more police.”

Baumann said Mayor Vince Gray had called for a police force of 3,900, but the sworn number has never reached that level.

“Given the retirements and good officers leaving the department,” Baumann said, “they can’t seem to meet their numbers.

“The result is more crime,” he added.

Meanwhile, last Saturday police pursued a dark-colored car fleeing the scene of Freddy Hawkins’s shooting. They pursued the vehicle and found Justin Wilson, 20, in the vehicle along with three others. They arrested Wilson and charged him with second-degree murder. Reese Williams was arrested and charged with accessory after the fact.

Both are being held pending a preliminary hearing on November 14, according to Homicide Watch, the website that tracks murder in DC.

UPDATE, 3:08 PM: MPD spokesperson Gwendolyn Crump disputes Baumann’s officer count. “Our current number of sworn members is 3,993,” she says. “We are 7 below 4,000. It fluctuates with retirements. We will be back over 4,000 when we hire our next class in mid-November.”

If that’s the case, DC has more police officers than it has had in many years. That still invites the question of why homicides are up this year compared with 2012. Mayoral spokesperson Pedro Ribeiro dodged the question. “Since we haven’t actually reached the end of the year, it’s a bit premature to talk final numbers,” he said.