Despite pleas from the mayor, the police chief and communit leaders to stop the killing, homicides in Baltimore were up 10 percent last month compared with January 1990.
Last year, 305 homicides were reported in Baltimore, a 20 percent increase over the 255 recorded in 1989, police said.
In the Baltimore suburbs, homicide rates either decreased last year or remained about the same as in recent years.
The city's 305 victims included a 50-year-old hospital housekeeper whose son is a suspect in her chain-saw slaying, and a 25-year-old engineer who was robbed and shot to death outside his work place on New Year's Eve as he begged two gunmen to spare his life.
"It seems to be something that is national," city police spokesman Dennis S. Hill said of the increase in homicides in Baltimore. "All the major cities on the East Coast are up. Nobody knows why."
Nineteen U.S. cities recorded record homicides last year, including Washington, with 483 killings, and New York, with 2,200. Baltimore's record of 330 occurred in 1972.
Nationally, there were at least 23,220 homicides in 1990, experts said.
In Baltimore, the number of homicides had fluctuated in the 1980s between 201 and 240 until increasing in the last two years, police said.
"I think that people don't have the principles they used to have and people don't have respect for life," said City Councilman Lawrence Bell 3rd, D-4th. He blamed the availability of drugs and guns and economic conditions for his district's having the highest number of homicides in the city.
In the Western District, the area that Bell represents, police reported 78 homicides in 1990, up from 45 in 1989. The Eastern District was second with 43 homicides last year, up from 36 the previous year, police said.
Last year, the Central and Northwest districts had 39 homicides each; the Southwest 35; the Northeast 26; the Southeast 20; the Northern 16, and the Southern 9.
In 1989, the Central had 32 homicides; the Northwest 31; the Southwest 22; the Northeast 25; the Southeast 15; the Northern 19, and the Southern 37.
"The only big change . . . is in Southern," Hill said. "The rest of them are about the same."
In comparing the districts, police say only that some areas have higher homicide rates because they are more crime-ridden and more populated than others.
Drugs figured in about 40 percent of the homicides, Hill said. Almost 70 percent of the homicides occurred on the streets, which indicates they involved other crimes such as drug trafficking and robberies, he said.
Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and Police Commissioner Edward V. Woods vowed on the last day of 1990 that the city would have fewer homicides this year. But police reported 31 homicides last month compared with 28 the previous January.
In Baltimore County, police recorded 34 homicides last year, the same as in 1989. One of those, however, was the discovery last year of the remains of a Dulaney High School student who had been missing since 1982 and was believed murdered then.
Handguns were used in about a third of the homicides, Baltimore County police said.
Baltimore County police say the homicide rate remained steady during the past decade, varying from a low of 23 in 1988 to a high of 34 in 1982, 1983 and 1989.
Overall, Baltimore County recorded a decrease in violent crimes in 1990. The major exception was rape, which increased by 35 cases, or 16 percent.
MORE VEHICLE THEFTS
The fastest-growing crime problem in Baltimore County is vehicle theft, committed mainly by youthful joyriders who usually abandon the cars and trucks they had stolen several days later.
Car thefts were up 14 percent last year in Baltimore County, a whopping increase of 604 cases, police said. The Woodlawn-Randallstown area accounted for the greatest number of car thefts. The Woodlawn police precinct in the western county reported 1,133 car thefts; Garrison was next at 914. The total in the county was 5,036.
Chevrolets and Toyotas were the most frequently stolen models in Baltimore County, although Ford Probes appeared to be gaining favor with thieves, police said. Police said 81 percent of vehicles stolen were recovered.
Anne Arundel County reported a decrease in the number of violent crimes last year, said police spokesman V. Richard Molloy.
Anne Arundel recorded 11 homicides in 1990, six fewer than in 1989, Molloy said. Maybe a quarter of them were drug-related, he said, and most resulted from domestic violence.
"I think the highest we've ever had was 19, and that was a couple of years ago," Molloy said. "We usually average out at about 15."
Annapolis police, however, saw a significant increase in the number of homicides last year, Officer Dermott Hickey said. Four involved drugs and the fifth may have been drug-related, he said.
In 1989, the state capital recorded 201 aggravated assaults, 54 of which involved the use of handguns, Hickey said. In 1990, the number of aggravated assaults jumped 27 percent to 276, 59 of them involving the use of guns.
RATE STEADY IN HOWARD