Prince George's County police are investigating whether disputes between neighborhood crews have caused the spike in homicides this year. Drugs have been a common theme in most of the nine killings in the first nine days of the year, Prince George's police spokesman Maj. Andy Ellis said, and police are investigating whether "ongoing disputes between different crews in the county that occasionally flare up" could be contributing to the deaths. But Ellis added there have been no "strong indications" that gang violence or turf wars are to blame for the spike.

Most victims in the nine incidents have been black males. Most include a "drug nexus" or personal dispute between the suspect and victim, and most have occurred inside the Capital Beltway. Most of the killings do not appear related.

"It scares me," said Tyasha Queen, whose brother Corteza Livingston was the county's latest homicide victim, dying Saturday night after being shot in his Forestville front yard. "But I can't go living life day by day in fear."

Prince George's homicides
The numbers of homicides in Prince George's County over the past 20 years:
1990: 122 2001: 117
1991: 154 2002: 137
1992: 138 2003: 128
1993: 150 2004: 148
1994: 136 2005: 169
1995: 140 2006: 134
1996: 137 2007: 141
1997: 84 2008: 131
1998: 104 2009: 99
1999: 91 2010: 95
2000: 71
Source: Prince George's County Police Department. Does not include homicides on federal property or in the municipalities of Laurel and Greenbelt. These numbers include justifiable homicides, such as police shootings or self-defense shootings.

Bullets were shot at Queen's 21-year-old brother after an altercation that she says had nothing to do with gangs or drugs. "It was my oldest brother's baby mama [who] brought some guys over here," she said. One of those guys, she said, shot both of her brothers, killing Corteza, after an argument over a 1-year-old baby.

A group of nine people gathered Monday in the living room of the Forestville house.

"It use to be when we were growing up you'd fight with fists," the victim's aunt, Chanette Jones, lamented. "Now it's pistols."

But Ellis said "the majority of us in the county have very little to fear from being a victim of homicide," saying it's those "engaged in risky activities" who have been the victims.

"I live in the county, my family lives in the county, I'm concerned about crime in the county and I'm concerned like anybody for the safety of my family. But my family is not involved in drug dealing or drug use or not involved in gang activity, and we don't have any ongoing feuds with anybody," he said.

Another law enforcement source downplayed the investigation into the local crews, saying the county has a history of coincidental spikes in murders, such as in March 2007 when there were six homicides over one weekend. That source speculated that the murders could be the result of New Year's resolutions -- for example, drug dealers vowing to kill those who owe them money. Except for one homicide last week in the Seat Pleasant area, no suspects in the murders have been arrested, Ellis said.

County Police Chief Mark Magaw has announced a "concerted, sustained effort" to respond to the spike, including transferring 13 detectives to the county's criminal investigation division, five detectives to the narcotic enforcement division and six detectives to federal task forces.

Municipal police chiefs are participating in conference calls to coordinate operations, he said, and meetings are being held with community groups in all police districts this week.