City murder rate continues steady rise

July 02, 1991|By M. Dion Thompson

Baltimore's murder rate continued its steady increase during the first half of 1991, when 148 persons were killed -- 15 more than during the same period last year.

The violence fell particularly hard on the city's black community: 9 of 10 of Baltimore's homicide victims during the first half of the year were black, and one third of those killed in the city were black men between the ages of 20 and 29.

"It's just not something we can stop before it occurs," said Dennis S. Hill, a Police Department spokesman. "We're not policing in your kitchen or living room where these things happen."

A case in point was the last murder of the first half of 1991, the June 29 strangling of Brenda Renee Brown, 30, who was found in a utility closet in the living room of her apartment in the 4000 block of Connecticut Avenue. The police are seeking her estranged boyfriend for questioning.

The administration of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who is facing re-election this summer, has taken steps to fight the surge in homicides -- adding two six-man squads to the homicide units and putting an additional 50 police officers on the street. Yet, these actions may do little to stop the killing.

Mr. Hill said that the police have no way of predicting the murder rate, which decreased for several years following a high of 330 in 1972. The decrease was attributed to sharp improvements in emergency medical care in Baltimore during the early 1970s. For the past three years, however, the homicide rate has been rising steadily.

All the police can say is that most people are killed by someone they know and that many of the murders are related to the victim's lifestyle. About 45 percent of this year's homicides are believed to be drug related.

The victims so far this year range in age from an 86-year-old woman who was raped and suffocated in her Southeast Baltimore apartment to an 11-month old baby whose mother was charged with killing her with an overdose of drugs.

In all, seven of 1991's murder victims were children under 10. Three of those died on May 4 when a fire, later ruled to have been an arson, swept through a row house in the 200 block of North Collington Street and killed children aged 6, 3 and 1.

There were three other multiple murders during the first half of the year -- all shootings linked to disputes in Baltimore's $1 million a day drug trade.

While police are waging their own war against crime, the candidates in this year's mayoral election also are finding out that the issue is resonating with the voters.

William A. Swisher, the one-time state's attorney for Baltimore, who is running for mayor, said that even if the candidates lay off the crime issue, voters will bring it up. Mr. Swisher said that he is considering changing the tone of his campaign.

"When I started my campaign, I tried to play down the crime situation and work on the economic and tax situation because I didn't want people to say: 'There goes Bill Swisher with his law-and-order campaign,' " Mr. Swisher said.

Aides to Mayor Schmoke say that they believe crime will be one of the three main issues of the campaign and that the mayor has acquitted himself well in the area.

"The issue that the campaign has to face is: Has the mayor done the best possible job," said Daniel P. Henson III, a Schmoke adviser. "And the answer we're going to present is: Yes he has."

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