WASHINGTON (AP) -- The District of Columbia has registered its third consecutive annual homicide record even though police say a major contributing factor, the percentage of drug-related killings, is declining.
The deaths of a 17-year-old student and two others Friday brought to 436 the number of killings in the nation's capital this year. That is two more than in 1989, with a month left to go in 1990.
Police Chief Isaac Fulwood Jr., who has vowed to resign if the murder rate doesn't come down, said his officers cannot win the battle alone.
"The community is still not angry enough about death and violence on the streets of Washington, D.C. We have to get a lot more angry about young people being killed," Chief Fulwood said.
After dropping from 200 murders in 1980 to 148 in 1985, the number of homicides in the District soared to a record 372 in 1988 and 434 last year.
Police say there actually were 438 killings last year, but four were listed as justifiable homicides. The number of justifiable homicides has not been determined for this year.
On a per-capita basis, Washington leads the nation in murders. The city's image as a drug and murder capital was blamed for a decline in tourism in 1989. Mayor Marion S. Barry's drug arrest and conviction this year focused even more attention on the drug problem.
Police blame the increased murder rate on an influx of crack cocaine into the region in the mid-1980s. But statistics now indicate that drugs are responsible for fewer killings than in previous years.
The proportion of slayings classified as drug-related has fallen from 66 percent in 1988 to 52 percent last year to 39 percent this year, according to police crime reports.
Even so, drugs remain the single leading cause of murder in the nation's capital.
"We'd like to stop these damned murders," police spokesman Lt. Reginald Smith said. "But arrests alone are not the only answer. The thing is to persuade people not to get involved in drugs; not to fall to social ills that we have seen over the years."
Lieutenant Smith said a sharp increase in domestic violence was helping inflate the murder rate.
Most of the victims and assailants are young, black men between the ages of 18 and 25.
Police are trying to beef up their presence in drug-ravaged neighborhoods with a return to the traditional walk-the-beat strategy. A Rapid Deployment Unit also has been created to send as many as 100 officers into these neighborhoods on short notice.
In 1986, police thought they could stop the city's drug and homicide problem by arresting as many people as possible. A special anti-drug program made 46,000 arrests, leaving the city's jails bulging, but new drug peddlers stepped forward to take the place of those in jail.