Fri, Jul 14, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Washingtonians concerned by surge in violent crime

CRIME CAPITAL?There have been 14 murders in Washington so far this month and figures for robby and assault with a deadly weapon have risen

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , WASHINGTON

In the wake of a recent surge of violent crime in Washington, local officials tried on Wednesday to calm fears that the city was returning to the crime-infested days of the early 1990s when the nation's capital was also called the murder capital of the country.

Since July 1, 14 people have been murdered, including a British citizen whose throat was slit early on Sunday morning while he was walking in Georgetown, one of the city's wealthiest neighborhoods.

In the past month, robberies have increased 18 percent while assaults with a deadly weapon have risen 14 percent, according to the police.

"It's far too early to draw any broad conclusions," Mayor Anthony Williams said in response to e-mail questions about the trend on Wednesday. "The 1990s were a violent period for a lot of American cities. Just as New York, Los Angeles and other large cities have seen a decline in murders in this decade, so has Washington, DC."

Emergency

On Tuesday, the city's police chief, Charles Ramsey, declared a citywide "crime emergency," a move that enables him to quickly shift officers' schedules and reassign them to high-crime areas.

"Our officers are already working very hard to combat crime," Ramsey said. "But we need to be even more flexible and more agile in how we respond to crime problems."

The city has had 96 murders this year, only two more than by the same time last year. But recent crimes have drawn public attention in part because they hit neighborhoods unaccustomed to such violence.

The latest case to grab headlines was the fatal stabbing in Georgetown of Alan Senitt, 27, a volunteer in the potential presidential campaign of Virginia's former governor, Mark Warner. Senitt was escorting a female friend home around 2am on Sunday after dinner and a movie when three men wielding a gun and a knife approached them, the police said.

Knife death

One man dragged the woman down a driveway and tried to rape her while the others stabbed Senitt and slit his throat, according to the police. The woman escaped uninjured.

"It's the brutality of it that has rattled our neighborhood and the whole city," said Bill Starrells, a member of the Advisory Neighborhood Commission from Georgetown who has lived in the neighborhood since 1989.

"Sennit doesn't seem to have been resisting until the men started attempting to sexually assault his friend. This crime would have been as shocking in an upscale area like Georgetown as it would be in less-advantaged parts of the city," he said.

Four suspects are in custody, including a woman who the police say drove the getaway car and a 15-year-old boy who prosecutors say will be tried as an adult.

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