2021 | Police & Fire

More homicides so far this year in Montgomery County than in all of 2020

Recent rise in crime not attributable to one factor, state’s attorney says

share this

The 25 homicides recorded so far this year in Montgomery County already exceed last year’s total – 19 – by 32%.

Other violent crimes are up also, including non-fatal shootings and robberies.

Through Sept. 14, there had been 30 nonfatal shootings compared with 17 through the same period last year — an increase of 76%.

Aggravated assaults — which include nonfatal shootings — increased from 538 to 653 (21%), and robberies increased from 283 to 330 (17%).

Officer Casandra Durham, a Montgomery County police spokeswoman, wrote in an email to Bethesda Beat on Friday that the number of non-fatal shootings and aggravated assaults is based on the number of victims, not the number of incidents.

The total number of robberies is based on the number of incidents, not the number of victims, she wrote.

Contacted by Bethesda Beat this week about the spike in violent crime, Montgomery County Police Chief Marcus Jones, County Council President Tom Hucker and Sheriff  Darren Popkin did not respond.

However, Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy said in an interview that overall crime has been down in Montgomery County during the past decade, but the rise in crime during the past year has been a cause for concern.

The spike in the suburban county of nearly 1.1 million residents mirrors a similar trend of crime spikes in large cities, he said.

Among the homicides in the county that have occurred this year are a shooting on a basketball court outside a recreation in Germantown that left one dead and three wounded last month. Two have been charged in the killing.

Additionally, a Florida man was charged with fatally shooting a man in Aspen Hill this month and a resident of a group home in Silver Spring was charged last month with killing a caregiver.

There have also been four incidents in which officers have shot and killed someone in Montgomery County this year. Of the four, one has been charged criminally. The State’s Attorney’s Office indicted off-duty Pentagon officer David Hall Dixon on murder charges after he shot two men in Takoma Park on April 7.

A study by the D.C.-based organization Council on Criminal Justice, examining 29 American cities, found that there were 16% more homicides in the first half of 2021 compared with the first half of 2020.

The study also found that aggravated assaults, gun assaults and motor vehicle thefts were up during the first half of the year, compared with the first half of 2020.

The Council on Criminal Justice report concluded that homicides rose following protests across the country over the killing of George Floyd, a Black man, in Minneapolis by a white police officer.

Additionally, it found that robberies, burglaries, larcenies and drug crimes declined following stay-at-home mandates that began with the COVID-19 pandemic’s onset in the spring of 2020.

“There’s a lot of different issues here that are in play, but there’s not a monolithic explanation,” McCarthy said. “And the explanation’s not simple. But the fact that the numbers are up is deeply concerning. We are monitoring that. But we’re not seeing any specific pattern.”

Factors could include disrespect for law enforcement and the continued stress of the COVID-19 pandemic, McCarthy said.

“We’re not here to say that there has been an outbreak of gang violence that has resulted in this. We’re not here saying they’re all domestic homicides. It’s not related to the gun trade. Each case appears to be unique,” he said.

County Executive Marc Elrich told Bethesda Beat on Friday that the increase in crime is part of a “national crisis.”

“All levels of crime seemed to have ticked up, all around the country,” he said. “And I think it’s more people without jobs, more people desperate for money, more people who are probably more socially isolated, and that may contribute to a person’s sense of well-being, and could easily deteriorate somebody’s judgement.”

Montgomery County recorded seven homicides in January alone, which was more than a third the total recorded in all of 2020.

Capt. Edward Pallas, the director of the department’s Major Crimes Division, told Bethesda Beat at the time that he didn’t have an explanation as to what was behind the unusually high number of homicides.

The county has typically had 15 to 20 homicides each year, according to past crime summaries, although there are a few outliers. According to a 2015 Montgomery County crime report, there were 30 homicides that year, the most since 2002, when there were 32. (Former Police Chief Tom Manger noted that 2002 was the year of the Beltway sniper attacks.)

Bethesda Magazine writer David Goldstein and Bethesda Beat staff writer Steve Bohnel contributed to this story.

Dan Schere can be reached at daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com