Washington, DC, targets illegal guns as killings surge

By Ian Simpson

By Ian Simpson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The District of Columbia on Wednesday sharply hiked rewards for seized illegal guns amid an upsurge in killings in the U.S. capital, part of a rise in homicides in many big cities.

Washington will pay a $2,500 reward for a tip leading to gun seizures, up from $1,000. Information leading to an arrest and conviction in a shooting earns a reward of $10,000, up from $1,000, Mayor Muriel Bowser and Police Chief Cathy Lanier said in a statement.

“Our actions are clear: we need to get illegal guns off the street so people aren’t put in harm’s way,” Lanier said.

Washington, a city of about 660,000 people, has had 98 homicides so far this year, up 36 percent from the same time in 2014. Police have seized 944 illegal guns this year, the statement said.

Lanier and Bowser have blamed the rise in killings on factors including illegal firearms in the wrong hands, greater use of synthetic drugs, more guns and repeat violent offenders on the street.

Washington's police union has said a shortage of officers was behind the increase.

The U.S. capital has some of the country's strictest gun laws, and banned weapons include sawed-off shotguns and machine guns. Firearms also must be registered with police.

Washington is among other big U.S. cities seeing an upturn in violent crime after it fell, starting in the 1990s, to half-century lows in 2013.

Big city police chiefs who met in Washington this month to discuss rising crime said homicides in 35 cities were up 19 percent this year on average. Sixty-two percent of cities reported increases in non-fatal shootings.

Baltimore, about 40 miles (64 km) from Washington, has recorded 211 homicides for the year, the same as for all of 2014, according to a tally by the Baltimore Sun.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Peter Cooney)