Gangs are finding new ways to organize in the Washington region, meeting at destinations throughout the area rather than coordinating in neighborhoods as they've traditionally done, D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier said Wednesday.

Natural meeting places have become points of contact for groups of young criminals, who can now recruit members from a wide swath of the Washington region rather than focusing membership and hang-out spots in a particular neighborhood, Lanier told the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments Board of Directors.

Those areas are the sort of entertainment and shopping districts in the region that expect to attract all kinds of customers, from families to groups of friends looking for a place to gather.

Crime falling in D.C. region
Crime 2010 offenses 2011 offenses Decrease  
Homicide 268 232 13.4 percent
Aggravated assault 7,798 6,950 10.9 percent
Rape 762 725 4.8 percent
Motor vehicle theft 14,665 13,121 10.5 percent
Burglary 18,477 16,570 10.3 percent

It's a problem that Lanier said her department will gladly handle given the overall drop in crime in the region, according to the council's annual crime report, which measures the instances of major

crimes such as homicide, rape and aggravated assault, as well as some property crimes.

Overall, crime declined 6.3 percent in the 20 jurisdictions included in the report from 2010, when 135,974 offenses were reported, to 2011, when 127,349 offenses occurred.

"It's kind of reflective of the successes in the region, if you ask me; the elimination of the open-air drug markets and the significant reduction of violence around those drug markets is fantastic," Lanier told reporters. "It's not a bad thing; it's just a little bit more challenging for us."

The change in gangs' meeting places has made it challenging for police to identify their members, Lanier said -- it's difficult to verify membership based on a home address, as police could do when gangs centered around specific neighborhoods.

"You'll see a hodgepodge of addresses of folks forming up and becoming a gang around a certain entertainment area, that all have different addresses from all over," Lanier said. "That's new for us."

The overall decline in crime was led by a 13.4 percent decrease in homicides, down from 268 in 2010 to 232 in 2011, and a 10.9 percent decrease in cases of aggravated assault, down from 7,798 in 2010 to 6,950 in 2011, according to the report.

Declines were reported in all types of crimes included in the report, which also measures burglary, larceny, motor vehicle theft and robbery.

It's the fourth year in a row that overall crime in the region has dropped.