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DC death toll ticks down to lowest level since '63

| Friday, Nov. 23, 2012, 5:36 p.m.

WASHINGTON — The crack epidemic that began in the 1980s ushered in a wave of bloodletting in the nation's capital and a death toll that ticked upward daily. Dead bodies, sometimes several a night, had homicide detectives hustling between crime scenes and earned Washington unwelcome monikers such as the nation's “murder capital.” At the time, some feared the murder rate might ascend to more frightening heights.

After approaching nearly 500 slayings a year in the early 1990s, the annual rate has gradually declined to the point that the city is on the verge of a once-unthinkable milestone. The number of 2012 killings in the District of Columbia stands at 78 and is on pace to finish lower than 100 for the first time since 1963, police records show.

The drop reflects a downward trend in violent crime nationwide and is in line with declining homicides in other big cities. Though killings have risen in Chicago, New York City officials say homicides dropped to 515 last year from 2,262 in 1990. Houston police reported 198 homicides last year, down from 457 in 1985, while Los Angeles ended last year with fewer than 300 after reporting nearly 1,100 in 1992. Across the country, violent crime reported by police to the FBI fell by 3.8 percent last year from 2010.

Though D.C. is hardly crime-free today, the homicide decline is especially notable in a place where grisly acts of violence embodied the worst of the crack scourge.

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