City police commanders request more detectives New homicide squad could be formed

January 12, 1993|By David Simon and Roger Twigg | David Simon and Roger Twigg,Staff Writers

For the second time in two years, commanders in Baltimore's beleaguered homicide unit are attempting to keep up with the city's rising murder rate by adding 10 additional investigators to the 40-detective unit.

The request for additional manpower, forwarded by Capt. John J. MacGillavery to the department's operations bureau, would mean an additional detective for each of the unit's eight squads, as well as the creation of a four-man "cold case" squad to probe older cases that have never been solved.

Although Captain MacGillavery's memo cited the increasing strain of a record number of slayings on his unit, homicide supervisors say they don't know whether or when the request will be granted.

"All we know is that the request has gone up," said one veteran supervisor, who asked not to be identified.

Two years ago, when the number of murders topped 300 for the second straight year, the 30-member unit was increased by ten detectives, allowing the creation of new squads that could be scheduled to work 7 p.m. to 3 a.m. -- the time period when most of the city's slayings occur.

The proposed addition of 10 more detectives would allow supervisors to give each of the unit's investigative squads an additional detective. The remaining two positions would allow the unit to retain two existing detectives who have been detailed to the unit on a temporary basis, supervisors said.

In addition to the official request for 10 new investigators, veteran Sgt. Jay Landsman and three of the most experienced detectives in the unit -- Kevin Davis, Donald Worden and Richard Garvey -- have been shifted into a new squad that will attempt to probe older cases that would otherwise be forgotten in the deluge of fresh murders.

Homicide supervisors hope to fill the vacancies created by the new "cold case" squad by having an additional three officers detailed temporarily to the homicide unit. In addition, two others were last week assigned to the unit, filling existing vacancies, supervisors said.

Last year, a record 335 slayings were recorded in the city, five more than the previous record set in 1972. But, in fact, the two years are not comparable: Last year's slayings resulted from hundreds more violent assaults -- an estimated 8,800 -- than were recorded twenty years ago; the advent of modern trauma (( care has simply reduced victim mortality rates.

Many detectives and officers say that the Baltimore department has been willing to bolster the homicide unit to keep pace with the murder rate -- but at some cost to other units, given the limited number of experienced investigators.

Downtown investigative units, such as the robbery and property crimes squads, have suffered substantial manpower reductions, while district operations units, which are responsible for probing nonfatal shootings and other serious assaults, have not been greatly expanded and are almost overwhelmed by the workload, according to departmental sources.

The problem is demonstrated in one notable statistic:

The department solves between 15 percent and 20 percent more of the city's murders than the percentage of non-fatal aggravated assaults cleared by arrest. Veteran detectives say those numbers can be explained only by the quality of investigation: As criminal acts, nonfatal assaults differ from homicides only in that investigators have the benefit of interviewing a living victim.

"The districts are so undermanned that investigation there is haphazard at best," says one supervisor. "If you're killed, the case goes downtown to homicide and gets at least one detective assigned. If you're shot and you don't die, you better know the name of whoever shot you or nine times out of ten, the investigation is over."

Nor does the city violence shows any sign of abating, with 13 city murders reported in the first 11 days of 1993: "Quite frankly we don't have time to think why this is happening," one detective said. "We're busy with our cases."

In addition to the murders, the homicide unit investigates kidnappings, suicides, overdoses and other questionable deaths, as well as all shootings involving police officers. The unit is also used at times to probe certain nonfatal assaults and other incidents that receive publicity or become politically important to the city hierarchy.

"We think of them in terms of only handling homicides, but they deal with all these other things, too," said Police Agent Doug Price, a police spokesman. As a result, homicide unit detectives might carry an average workload of 7 to 11 cases as a primary investigator and another dozen as a secondary or assisting detective.

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