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Murder stalked the streets of the District this year, leaving bloodshed and a bureaucratic nightmare in its wake. As of Dec. 19, 253 people had been murdered in the District in 2002 — an increase of more than 14 percent from 2001. Meanwhile, the Metropolitan Police Department’s homicide closure rate hovered around 50 percent. Such statistics have put D.C. politicos, not to mention residents, on edge. After all, D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams and Police Chief Charles Ramsey are still trying to shake off the city’s mid-’90s reputation as “Murder Capital of the World.” Unsolved killings — especially those of tourists or Capitol Hill interns — don’t bode well for the mayor’s efforts to lure Major League Baseball and a Homeland Security Department to the District. “Clearly, that’s disturbing to us,” says Barbara Lang, president of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce. Lang, however, says she has yet to hear anyone say crime was the reason for not doing business in the District. “There’s been such a resurgence of business, and we want to keep that going.” D.C. officials, however, are quick to point out that this year’s homicide figure is nowhere near the 397 murders in 1996, and comes just one year after a 30-year low of 233 killings. The city’s struggle with murder was frighteningly evident during October’s sniper attacks. While the region was held hostage over a three-week period as 10 people died and three were wounded from sniper shootings, more than a dozen of what police called “traditional” homicides took place in the District. Claude McCants, a congressional intern from Mississippi, was one of those “traditional” homicide victims. McCants, 25, was stabbed to death outside his Northeast Washington home on Oct. 10. Last month, police arrested former mental patient Eric Wallace, claiming that he killed McCants with a steak knife in order to steal the intern’s Ford Explorer. Meanwhile, the homicide closure rate continued to fall, as it has since Ramsey was hired in 1998. That year it was 65 percent. The current rate is around 50 percent. One of the police department’s most embarrassing gaffes came during the investigation of its most famous case: the disappearance and murder of Chandra Levy. The police department has yet to charge someone for the death of Levy, who was last seen in May 2001. The former federal intern’s remains were found in May by a man walking his dog in a part of Rock Creek Park that a year earlier had reportedly been canvassed by police. Police officials later explained that the area where her remains were found lay just beyond the focus of their probe and was never searched. After D.C. police spent more than a week gathering evidence from the site, two private investigators working for the Levy family found more of her remains. Earlier this month, Ramsey — facing pressure from Williams — kicked five detectives out of the 48-member homicide unit. The police chief, whose contract is up in 2003, also conceded to The Washington Times that it was a mistake for him to decentralize the homicide unit in 1998. In that same interview, Ramsey said he believes there is a correlation between the rising murder rate and an increase in the use of the animal tranquilizer phencyclidine, commonly known as PCP. Ramsey also suggested that shooters are getting much better at hitting their targets, noting that many victims had been shot in the head.

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