Annual Homicide Rate Increased Nearly Fifty Percent Since 2015, D.C. Witness Data Shows

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While judges expressed their concerns about the troubling rise of crime in the city, and the city council tried to come up with solutions, 2023 turned out to be a record-setting year for homicides in DC since 1997.

D.C. Witness has monitored homicides in the District since 2015, and our data shows that there was a significant increase from 2017 to 2021, before slightly decreasing in 2022, and hitting a peak in 2023. In eight years, DC’s homicide rate increased nearly fifty percent.

Figure 1.

Figure 1 depicts the change in numbers throughout the years that D.C. Witness has been tracking. 

According to D.C. Witness data, there were 173 homicide incidents in the District in 2015, with 178 victims. However there were 256 incidents in 2023, with 278 victims, indicating a 47.97 percent increase in homicide incidents in eight years, and 56.18 percent increase in homicide victims. 

Of the 278 homicide victims in 2023, 243 died from gunshot injuries, with less than half of the guns used by the arrested individuals recovered. 

With the increase in homicide incidents in 2023, came an increasing number of juvenile defendants, either tried as adults or children, and juvenile victims. In 2023, there were a total of 23 juvenile homicide victims, with ages ranging from five-months-old to 17-year-olds. 

The number of juvenile arrests also increased in 2023, with several tried as adults. One of them, 18-year-old Lorinzo Thompson, who was 17 at the time of the incident, is alleged to have shot and killed 14-year-old Niko Estep on Nov. 3 on the 2600 block of 14th Street, NW. 

During a detention hearing, DC Superior Court Judge Marisa Demeo stated the case has an “extremely troubling set of circumstances,” citing Thompson’s mother’s alleged presence during the incident. She also mentioned his two pending juvenile cases, whose circumstances were not discussed in open court, with the judge arguing that his alleged involvement in Estep’s death was when he was on release from the other two juvenile cases. 

Judge Demeo echoed multiple judges’ statements who deemed juveniles’ actions as troubling. 

Most notably in the deaths of victims under the age of 18 was five-month-old Kenneth Geo Walton, who was located unconscious and unresponsive on Feb. 11, on the 4000 block of Massachusetts Avenue, NW. He succumbed to his injuries on Feb. 18, and the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) ruled his death a homicide, stating that he died from complications of blunt force trauma. An arrest has yet to be made in relation to the incident. 

Likewise, on March 16, officers from the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) responded to the 1300 block of Morris Road, SE, for the report of an unconscious and unresponsive infant, with no signs consistent with life. The infant was identified as seven-month-old King Phelps, and no arrests have been made. 

DC Superior Court Judge Andrea Hertzfeld has also deemed various juvenile defendant’s actions troubling, including a juvenile girl that was charged with the fatal stabbing of 16-year-old Naima Liggon on Aug. 27 on the 1900 block of 14th Street, NW. 

The girl, who accepted a plea deal on Dec. 4, has requested she be released multiple times, with the request being denied due to the dangerousness and circumstances of her case.

However, Judge Hertzfeld granted another juvenile defendant’s motion for release in connection with the deadly carjacking incident on Oct. 28 that left 13-year-old Vernard Toney Jr. dead on the 600 block of D Street, NW. 

She released the boy following weeks-long psychiatric evaluations at a District facility due to behavioral issues leading up to the incident and while he was detained at the Youth Services Center (YSC) in the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services (DYRS). 

Although the homicide numbers are high, arrests have lagged behind. In 2023 alone, only 90 arrests were made in connection to the 256 homicide incidents, meaning that suspects have not been apprehended in nearly 65 percent of homicide incidents last year.

Figure 2. 

Figure 2 depicts the similar percentages for arrests throughout the years. 

In 2023, the DC Council responded to the uptick in crime by passing legislations like the Safer Stronger Amendment Act of 2023 and Addressing Crime Trends Now Act (ACT Now) of 2023, which aimed to address the safety challenges and the penalties for violent crimes in the District. 

The legislation leaves the question of how the city council and mayor’s attempts to control the rise in crime in 2023 will affect 2024’s numbers.

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