Transcripts

Reporters Keep Tabs On Homicides Even As Murder Rates Drop

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:03
This week's theme is again, falling. And as we hinted at the top of the show, something that's been falling in D.C. is the number of homicides. Last year, D.C. logged 108 murders. As of the middle of this week, we were at 64. Baltimore is seeing a similar trend, although September has been a particularly violent month for Charm City. Baltimore has seen more than 160 homicides this year, 20 of them this month alone. As the homicide rates drop, two journalists are continuing to log each death and make sure no murder goes unnoticed. Emily Friedman has the story.

MS. EMILY FRIEDMAN

00:00:42
Anna Ditkoff is sitting in her living room with a baby strapped to her chest and a MacBook Air resting on her lap. It's just after 9:00 A.M., time to make the first call of the day.

MS. ANNA DITKOFF

00:00:51
I think I'm one of the few people with the Baltimore City police on their favorites on their phone.

MS. ANNA DITKOFF

00:00:59
Hi, Marlene, it's Anna calling for the homicides. Your computers are down? Okay, when should I call back?

FRIEDMAN

00:01:07
This is typical says Ditkoff. Some days she can't get through to the police until the afternoon.

DITKOFF

00:01:12
So I keep a spreadsheet for each year. I do the date, then the name of the victim, their date of birth, their age, their sex, their race, was it a single homicide, or was it a double shooting with one homicide or triple homicide. And then, when available, motive. Almost all of my motive blocks say unknown.

FRIEDMAN

00:01:34
Ditkoff has kept up the spread sheet since 2004. That's when she began writing a column for the Baltimore City Paper called Murder Ink, which tracks all the homicides in Baltimore. She started it, she says, to fill a void.

DITKOFF

00:01:48
I assumed that the TV news was covering every homicide or that the daily paper was covering every homicide, which at the time they just weren't. It was just so commonplace in Baltimore -- just wasn't even news.

FRIEDMAN

00:01:58
She wanted to know more about these people. Who were they? Where did they live? And who are the suspects?

DITKOFF

00:02:05
If you're murdered in Baltimore City, your name should appear in a newspaper.

FRIEDMAN

00:02:08
And once she began reporting, sometimes the truth was overwhelming.

DITKOFF

00:02:11
Over the years I've gotten inured to sort of the day-in-day-out of doing this column and hearing so much tragedy. But there's still weeks and incidents that, you know, are very upsetting. There was a man who killed his three children in a hotel room in Baltimore. There was a woman that got killed because she bumped into another woman on the dance floor at a club. I mean, who doesn't bump into someone when they're dancing at a crowded club? And sometimes here that could end your life.

DITKOFF

00:02:48
Hey, Marlene, it's Anna. Are the computers back up? So have there been any homicides since last we spoke? 2800 block Chesterfield Avenue. 22:26 hours. M-A-R-V-I-T.

FRIEDMAN

00:03:05
Last night, Ditkoff learns, Peter Marvit was killed as he arrived from home from choral rehearsal.

DITKOFF

00:03:11
For initial report of a what? Multiple gunshot wounds to the torso and head.

FRIEDMAN

00:03:18
This case is typical she says because it was a shooting and there's no known motive. But unlike most of Baltimore's homicide victims, Marvit was white.

DITKOFF

00:03:27
African-Americans make up about 60 percent of Baltimore City's population and approximately 90 percent of their homicide victims.

FRIEDMAN

00:03:35
After she hangs up with the police, Ditkoff takes the data and writes up a short narrative.

DITKOFF

00:03:40
I like to try and point out some trends, like, you know, if there's been a lot of murders in a particular neighborhood. Or to point out to people that maybe this homicide is closer to where they were that day than they think, you know, really giving you a sense of how these things build, you know, what a whole week in Baltimore is like as far as homicides.

FRIEDMAN

00:03:59
Washington D.C. has just half the per capita homicide rate of Baltimore. As of Thursday, there have been 66 homicides in the district. Back in the early '90s, D.C. was losing nearly 500 people a year to murder.

MS. LAURA AMICO

00:04:12
My first week on the beat at D.C. Superior Court I was talking to a defense attorney and I remember very clearly he said, well why would you cover homicides, you know, there's fewer every year. You're going to be out of work soon.

FRIEDMAN

00:04:25
Laura Amico is the writer and editor of a website called Homicide Watch D.C.

AMICO

00:04:31
We're trying to build a resource that goes beyond the typical blotter of just listing what the crimes are. Part of what that means is that we build individual newsfeeds for every victim and every suspect in D.C.

FRIEDMAN

00:04:42
Amico had been a crime reporter for years in California. When she moved here with her husband she noticed there was no centralized hub for news on every homicide case in the District. If you go on Homicide Watch D.C. now, two years after Amico came up with the concept, you'll find up-to-date court records, original reporting, robust comments from the victim's families and friends. Even phone numbers for the detectives assigned to the case.

AMICO

00:05:08
I frequently hear from detectives that they're following Homicide Watch very closely and because we have the detective's names and phone numbers for each case on the site, they're actually getting calls. It's not something that we set out to do, but I conceive of journalism as being a community resource.

FRIEDMAN

00:05:25
Amico and her husband, who does all the programming for the site, are currently at Harvard on a journalism fellowship. They're making plans to launch the Homicide Watch platform in as many as 10 cities by the end of the year. And even though crime reporting is fascinating work, Amico says, what she really wants is to one day be put out of a job. I'm Emily Friedman.

SHEIR

00:05:57
Time for a quick break. But when we get back, the demise of a court program designed for drug offenders.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN

00:06:03
Drug addiction is not something you just treat once and you're cured. You have to continue to work hard at it every day of your life.

SHEIR

00:06:12
That and more in a minute on "Metro Connection" here on WAMU 88.5.
Transcripts of WAMU programs are available for personal use. Transcripts are provided "As Is" without warranties of any kind, either express or implied. WAMU does not warrant that the transcript is error-free. For all WAMU programs, the broadcast audio should be considered the authoritative version. Transcripts are owned by WAMU 88.5 FM American University Radio and are protected by laws in both the United States and international law. You may not sell or modify transcripts or reproduce, display, distribute, or otherwise use the transcript, in whole or in part, in any way for any public or commercial purpose without the express written permission of WAMU. All requests for uses beyond personal and noncommercial use should be referred to (202) 885-1200.