Baltimore shooting statistics questioned

March 24, 1998|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

City Council members continued their battle over crime with Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier last night, this time questioning the accuracy of reported shootings in Baltimore.

Since his hiring four years ago, Frazier has said shootings in the city have been cut in half.

But Council President Lawrence A. Bell III said last night that the council's Legislative Investigations Committee will meet Thursday to determine the accuracy of the commissioner's report.

Bell and several colleagues question the drop in shootings while homicides in the city have remained fairly constant, more than 300 per year since 1989.

The city has had 74 homicides in the first three months of this year, outpacing the 70 for the same period in 1993 when Baltimore had a record 353 murders, according to 3rd District Councilman Martin O'Malley.

The council also is questioning the department's rate of solving murders. Police leaders said the rate dropped last year by 5 percent to the national average of 65 percent. But council members put the figure closer to 50 percent.

"We suspect that a number of the statistics may be questionable," Bell said. "We are continuing to exercise our role as the oversight."

Frazier and city Health Commissioner Peter Beilenson attribute the disparate shooting and homicide figures to the increase of drug wars in the city. Killers are using more lethal guns at close range, the commissioners said.

Police spokesman Robert W. Weinhold Jr. last night stood by the department's shooting figures, saying that the department and TTC council figures differ because federal crime standards require shootings to be listed as aggravated assaults.

"There is no attempt by anyone in this agency to mislead the public regarding the downward trend in shootings over the past four years," Weinhold said.

Bell and O'Malley are at odds with Frazier and Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke over the implementation of a "zero tolerance" crime strategy in which officers arrest suspects in the smallest crimes to deter future ones. Los Angeles, New York and New Orleans have cut homicides based on the strategy, which is used to keep track of repeat criminals.

Bell and O'Malley support the strategy, which is opposed by Schmoke and Frazier, who have adopted several pieces of the plan. Other council members question the motivation of Thursday's council committee meeting, saying the city doesn't have the money to hire the additional police officers needed to employ zero tolerance.

Pub Date: 3/24/98

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