Dupont – Logan – U Street

Why is DC’s Murder Rate 4.56 Times Higher Than New York City’s?

If I could ask only one question of Councilmember Phil Mendelson at his community forum on crime in Shaw Monday night, it would be this: “Why is DC’s murder rate 4.56 times higher than that of New York City and what is your plan to keep fewer young people from being killed?” (More on homicide rates below).

No, the Shaw neighborhood is not in Borderstan. However, Council Member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) has influence over the entire District in his role as chair of the Council Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary. So, it is noteworthy that he is holding a meeting tomorrow evening (December 14) to talk about public safety with Shaw and Mount Vernon Square residents. Time is 7 to 9:30 p.m. at the New Community Church, 614 S Street NW.

I suspect the meeting will be interesting and that Mendelson will get an earful from Shaw residents, particularly regarding past statements. Whatever issues we have in Dupont-Logan-U Street with crime, the folks in Shaw have more serious problems than we do here in the Borderstan area or in many other parts of the city.

“Not a Legislative Problem”

Mendelson has made some statements in the past that I (and others) find puzzling. For example, there is, “Crime in Shaw is not a legislative problem.” And you may like or dislike Harry Jaffe, but you should read this June 1, 2008, piece at, “Why DC’s Bad Guys Have So Many Guns.” (Coincidentally, Jaffe had a piece on violent crime in DC in today’s Examiner.)

In addition, Mendelson battled and defeated the mayor’s Omnibus Crime Bill earlier this year and has opposed efforts by Councilmember Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) to enact some much tougher crime measures. Note: For background information and a history of the bills, read Cary Silverman’s posting at his blog, The Other 35 Percent.

I disagree with Mendelson. Crime in Shaw (and the District) is a legislative problem. At the very least, legislation is part of solving the problem, if not the entire answer.

The police and a number of members of the DC Council feel strongly that there are some tougher and more effective laws that could be enacted that would help law enforcement officers do their jobs more effectively. The reality is that DC still has a crime rate much higher than that of other major U.S. cities.

New York and Chicago, for example, have violent crime rates much lower than DC. This fact seems to get lost somewhere. Why don’t we as residents, demand to know why this is the case? What does New York do that we do not do? Why can’t we learn from other major U.S. cities?

DC’s Murder Rate 4.56 Times Higher Than New York City

Let’s take the murder rate. We hear a great deal about DC’s declining murder rate. It is, indeed, very good news. But here is the ugly reality. The murder rate in New York City is 4.99 homicides per 100,000 people (through Nov. 22 this year). In DC, the homicide rate is 22.77 per 100,000 people (through Dec. 10 this year).¹ So, what is the answer? I don’t know, but I do wish that we (residents and elected officials) would start to ask why and try to figure out what we can do to bring down the rate of violent crime in DC. At the very least, shouldn’t we be asking the question?

When we have a murder rate that is 4.56 times higher than New York City, I am not sure we should be bragging about our declining murder rate. (There have been 134 homicides in DC through Dec. 10 compared to 175 for the same period in 2008).

I am going to try to make it to the Monday meeting in Shaw to hear what residents ask and how Mendelson answers. I suggest that you go, too.

Full Disclosure: Cark Ray is running against Mendelson in the Democratic primary next September for the At-Large Council seat. I have known Clark for more than a decade and I am supporting him; yes, you will find my name (Matthew Rhoades) among Clark’s contributors. Those of you who have been reading this blog since we started it in August 2008 know that I have been writing about DC crime long before Clark began his campaign.

About Tonight’s Meeting

From Life In Mount Vernon Square:

Councilmember Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) will hold a community meeting to discuss crime in the Mount Vernon Square and Shaw neighborhoods on Monday, December 14, from 7-9:30pm at the New Community Church, 614 S Street NW.  According to Mendelson’s announcement: The purpose of the meeting will be to discuss what the Council has done/can do to improve public safety in the Shaw and Mt. Vernon Square neighborhoods.  I have asked that the MPD and U.S. Attorney’s office send representatives, and intend that the bulk of the meeting with me devoted to answering questions from those who attend.

This is a good opportunity to ask Councilmember Mendelson, who chairs the Committee on Public Safety and Judiciary, about his positions on various anti-gang/crime initiatives, such as civil gang injunctions, pre-trial detention, and anti-loitering laws. Residents might also press federal prosecutors as why we have situations such as that of Tony Randolph Hunter, where an individual is beat up and dies in our neighborhood, and his assailant receives just six months for simple assault.  Or situations where shooters are arrested by police with discarded guns recovered, yet they are not held. Read entire post.

Calculating Homicide Rates

¹New York City reported 413 homicides, Jan. 1 through Nov. 22, 2009 (473 for the same period in 2008). According to the U.S. Census Bureau, New York City had an estimated 8,274,527 people in 2007. Washington, DC, reported 134 homicides for the Jan. 1-Dec. 10, 2009 period (175 for the same period of 2008); DC had an estimated populated of 588,292 in 2007.


December 13, 2009 - Posted by | crime, politics and government | , , , , , ,


  1. […] Why is DC’s Murder Rate 4.56 Times Higher Than New York City’s? […]

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  4. I’d suspect the reason for the higher rate when compared to NYC is that although the Washington metro area extends far beyond the DC borders, the basis for the calculation does not. NYC with its 5 boroughs covers a much larger swath of land. To make comparable comparison, we’d need to include at a minimum the inner counties in the metro area.

    Comment by Concerned DCResident | December 19, 2009 | Reply

  5. […] I did get to ask Mendelson my question, “Why is DC’s murder rate 4.56 times higher than New York City’s?” I got no explanation or theory as to why our homicide rate and other violent crimes are […]

    Pingback by Shaw Crime Forum: Residents Vent, Mendelson Explains System « Borderstan | December 15, 2009 | Reply

  6. […] } Tonight Councilmember Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) is holding a public safety-crime forum in Shaw (7 p.m. at New Community Church, 614 S Street NW). Mendelson—chair of the Council Committee on […]

    Pingback by By the Numbers: Crime in Cleveland Park, Crime in Shaw « Borderstan | December 14, 2009 | Reply

  7. Dear Gummper,

    You have a point. But to further sharpen it, I would ask all current and potential city council members these two questions: (1)Why is the murder rate in DC 4.56 times higher than NYC; (2) What legislation will you propose to bring these numbers down dramatically?

    For too long the DC city council has tolerated levels of crime that are intolerable, and choke the life out of amazing and substantive growth in our city. Enough is enough! Either they want to coddle the soft bigotry of low expectation for their own short-term, narrow gain (Rovian politics), or they believe in a better, greater DC. They can pick ONE, not both.

    Comment by Avi | December 13, 2009 | Reply

  8. OK, I’ll bite. What is Clark Ray’s plan for dealing with the fact that DC’s homicide rate is 4.56 times that of NYC. I’m no Phil Mendelson fan, but if the Council has a role in solving this (and I believe it does), then those running for Council, as well as sitting members, should have proposals.

    Comment by Gumpper | December 13, 2009 | Reply

    • Gumpper – You are right to ask the question of Ray. This is an open invitation to both Ray and Mendelson — as well as every member of the Council and Mayor Fenty — to tell us about their views on crime (especially violent crime).

      I don’t have the answers; I am not an expert. What I do know is that we (that means all of us) seem to put up with violent crime at rates that other cities would find unacceptable.

      I would be happy if there were a discussion on violent crime in DC similar to the one we are having about the public school system.

      My first suggestion to you: Email Mendelson and Ray and everyone else and ask them.

      I am not punting here. I am simply not the leader of the crusade; I am trying to bring attention to the issue.

      Comment by mattyillini | December 13, 2009 | Reply

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