Charles H. Ramsey
Chief of Police
Metropolitan Police Department
Chief Charles H. Ramsey delivered the following statement to the Council of the District of Columbia, Committee on Education, Libraries and Recreation, The Honorable Kathy Patterson, Chair; Committee on the Judiciary, The Honorable Phil Mendelson, Chair; Committee on Human Services, The Honorable Adrian Fenty, Chair, on January 31, 2005, at the Council Chamber, John A. Wilson Building, 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC.
Chairpersons Mendelson, Patterson and Fenty, members of the Committees, staff and guests v I want to thank you for holding this Joint Oversight Hearing on a topic of such critical importance to our city and to our city-s future. And thank you for the opportunity to present this opening statement. As is customary, my statement is posted on our Department-s website: www.mpdc.dc.gov.
My testimony today serves two purposes: first, to provide information on the nature and extent of the problem of juvenile homicides in the District; and second, to briefly outline the Metropolitan Police Department-s strategies for combating youth crime and violence. That said, I think it is important for to remember that the police are just one part of the solution to the problem we face. Just as there are several Council committees looking at this problem v and I applaud you for your comprehensive approach v there are also many agencies and organizations that are working on finding and implementing solutions.
The MPD recognizes that intervention and prevention offer our best hope for reducing and preventing youth violence over the long term. That-s not to say that enforcement of the law in the short term is not important. Enforcement is v and always will be v a critical component of our violence reduction strategies. The MPD certainly recognizes this, and we are working with our partners, inside and outside the government, to develop and implement the full range of strategies v enforcement, intervention and prevention v that will have a positive impact on juvenile homicides.
But to develop strategies that are comprehensive, complementary and, ultimately, successful, we need to understand the nature and extent of the problem. To assist in this regard, the MPD has prepared a summary analysis of juvenile homicides in the District from 2002 through 2004. This report has been distributed to Councilmembers and it, too, has been posted on our website. My testimony will highlight some of the key findings.
All of our statistics are based on the DC Code definition of a juvenile: that is, anyone age 17 or younger. During 2004, there were 24 juveniles who were murdered in the District of Columbia. That is nearly double the number of juvenile homicide victims in 2003, when there were 13, and is 41 percent higher than the 2002 total of 17. And while it was not uncommon for juvenile homicides to number three dozen or more a year during the high homicide years of the early 1990s, the spike in 2004 is stark and it is troubling.
The juvenile homicides of 2004 included a number of high-profile cases, including the deaths of Chelsea Cromartie, Princess Hansen, James Richardson, Myesha Lowe and others. They also included a number of cases that received very little attention from the news media and others in the community. But regardless of the public attention a case received, it is important for us to keep in mind that all of these homicides involved a terrible loss of life in the short term v a loss that is only compounded by the long-term price born by families, schools and entire communities.
What is most troubling and perplexing about last year-s increase in juvenile homicides is that it came during a year in which the total number of homicides in the District declined by 20 percent, to its lowest level in 18 years. In 2003, about 5 percent of all homicide victims in our city were juveniles, but in 2004, the figure was 12 percent v about one out of every eight homicide victims last year was age 17 or younger. So at a time when every other major category of crime is trending downward, juvenile homicide has emerged as a serious crime problem in our city, and a major priority for the MPD and the District government as a whole.