Homicide rate stalls Murder city: The number of slayings stayed about the same, which is good and bad.

January 09, 1996

WHEN THE NUMBER of murders in Baltimore dropped from 353 in 1993 to 321 in 1994, City Hall boasted that its anti-crime efforts had been successful. By that same logic, a slight increase in the number of murders last year, 323, must mean the police tactics are still working, but not as well. It's time for new strategies.

With half the murders in Baltimore each year linked to the illegal drug trade, reducing the number of homicides depends to a large degree on how well the police combat drug dealing.

zTC Before Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier took over two years ago, the city was making a lot of drug arrests but having little impact on drug dealing. Mr. Frazier changed the emphasis from picking up street dealers who typically carry only enough dope to be charged with a misdemeanor. He and State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy are instead concentrating on making felony cases against suspects who are then arrested in high profile sweeps.

But while the number of shootings in the city has gone down, the homicide rate has inched up again, which indicates the violence associated with drug dealing in Baltimore continues. Chief Frazier and Mrs. Jessamy must aim their sights even higher if they are to have greater impact on the drug trade and the violence that accompanies it. They must reach the distributors who are bringing in the narcotics.

Chief Frazier describes Baltimore as a "drug-user city." Indeed, with an estimated 50,000 addicts of heroin and/or cocaine, the city has a greater problem with drug abuse than some big cities. Who chose Baltimore for that distinction isn't known. But the city's options are. It must decrease the number of addicts through effective drug treatment programs and lock up the people who prey upon the addicts' weakness.

Baltimore must also take another look at what other cities are doing to fight crime. Campaigning for mayor, former City Council President Mary Pat Clarke pointed out that New York's murder rate was going down while Baltimore's was increasing. Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said he was concerned about the civil liberties questions raised by New York's more aggressive police tactics. His concern is appropriate, but it wouldn't hurt to investigate further whether New York is doing things that Baltimore could -- and should -- try.

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