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By Alexander Pyles
COLLEGE PARK, Md. (February 18, 2011) — Another person was killed in Prince George's County Thursday night, this time in Laurel, marking the county's 20th homicide in 2011 and the fourth this week.
This year's homicide count doubles the total from last year at this time. It wasn't until April that the county reached 20 homicides in 2010.
Police aren't providing much information about the latest slaying, a shooting in the 1300 block of Laurel Bowie Road at 6:15 p.m. Thursday. The victim has not been identified and police do not have suspects in the case, a Prince George's County police spokeswoman said.
It was initially thought the killing took place on Department of Parks and Recreation property, but a survey this morning showed it did not, Prince George's police said. Maryland-National Capital Park Police did not return phone messages.
Gary LaFree, director of the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice at University of Maryland, cautioned against calling the killings a trend.
There are "relatively few homicides, so a couple can really make it look like you're in a trend, when that's not the case," said LaFree, an expert in violence trends.
One of the 20 homicides this year was declared self-defense by police, leaving 19 criminal cases.
Still, LaFree noted that homicide rates in Washington, D.C., have been falling faster than in neighboring Prince George's.
"P.G. County's got some issues," LaFree said. "It's rapidly transitioning. There's been a lot of economic change, a lot of economic turmoil. And those things do tend to be associated with crime rates.
"But if things were going down, I could come up with reasons for that, too."
There have been 12 homicides in the nation's capital this year, the same number as last year at this time. Homicides declined by more than 9 percent in 2010 to 131 deaths, according to the Metropolitan Police Department.
Homicides in Prince George's County declined just over 4 percent in 2010, to 91 killings. But the county reduced homicides by 47 percent the year before, going from 134 homicides in 2008 to 95 in 2009.
LaFree said one effective method in policing violent crime is flooding "hot spots," which are areas where crime is more prevalent. Extra patrols in those areas can cut down on violence, he said.
After County Executive Rushern L. Baker held a press conference at county police headquarters Jan. 18 decrying the crime spree and asking for citizens' help in identifying suspects, Prince George's police flooded hot spots in the county with overtime patrols.
Those patrols ended when the calendar turned to February, Prince George's police spokesman Cpl. Evan Baxter said.
It is unclear if the four homicides this week will have any impact on police strategy. Messages left for homicide commanders were not returned.
Police spokeswoman Cpl. Erica Johnson said if this week's investigations indicated overtime patrols were needed, commanders would authorize them.
"They'll figure out where to put the additional resources," she said.
Before Thursday night, the most recent victim was Darian Michael Hinton, 27, who was found unresponsive in the 900 block of Kennebec Street in Oxon Hill, Md., at 11:30 p.m. Monday, police said. He died at a local hospital.
Hinton's killing followed the death of Christopher Alan Trueheart, 44, who police say was killed in a personal dispute. Eldridge Slaughter, 42, has been charged with first-degree murder in that case. Truehart was found in an apartment in Temple Hills, Md., around 2 p.m. Sunday, about 10 hours after a Forestville, Md., man was found dead.
Ralph Bernard Thomas Jr., 28, of Forestville, was stabbed in the 7500 block of Marion Street in District Heights, Md. He died at a local hospital.