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Citizens' help praised amid fewer killings in Richmond

Chief Rodney Monroe says public cooperation is greater.

RICHMOND -- At the scene of a recent homicide, someone dropped a note in a police car identifying the killer.

The police chief was amazed.

"I'm seeing things I've never seen before," Chief Rodney Monroe said. "There was a belief that a person could commit a homicide in the city and never worry about somebody turning them in. But that's changed."

Richmond, a city that usually ranks among the deadliest in the nation, has seen just six homicides in the first three months of 2007, compared with 28 during the same period a year ago -- a remarkable drop that the chief and others are attributing to a more visible police presence on the streets, a more aggressive attack on open-air drug dealing, and a greater willingness on the part of the public to cooperate.

"If we go back 20 years . . . we've never gotten off to the low start as we have this year," said Monroe, who added that the city of about 190,000 people is on its way to meeting his unofficial target of fewer than 80 killings for 2007. There were 81 in 2006.

"Crime ebbs and flows. But I do think that what we're doing in the city of Richmond is not just luck and it's not just happenstance," said Robyn Lacks, a criminal justice professor and director of the Public Safety Institute at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Among other things, more Richmond residents are identifying drug dealers, and witnesses are more willing to testify, Monroe said. Residents are speaking out because they are sick of the bloodshed and trust Monroe , said community activist Alicia Rasin, founder of Richmond's Citizens Against Crime.

"They're getting tired and frustrated and now they're coming forth," said Rasin, 54, who regularly shows up at murder scenes to console victims' families. "They're saying, 'OK, enough is enough.' "