Baltimore homicides down 20%

Police report 125 killings in first half of year

'98 6-month total was 157

'99 count would be 250 at current rate, 1st time below 300 this decade

July 03, 1999|By ERIC SIEGEL | ERIC SIEGEL,SUN STAFF

Homicides in Baltimore dropped 20 percent in the first six months of this year compared with the same period last year, putting the city on a pace to record fewer than 300 killings in a year for the first time this decade.

Through Wednesday, the city had recorded 125 homicides, down from 157 at the same time last year, the Police Department reported yesterday.

At the current pace, Baltimore would finish the year with 250 homicides, a decline of nearly 30 percent from the record 353 homicides in 1993.

The last year in which the city recorded fewer than 300 homicides was 1989, with 262.

Crime overall was down 10 percent through May, the last month for which statistics are available, compared with the same period last year, police said.

The decrease in homicides is noticeable even when the city's declining population is taken into account.

In 1990, Baltimore had 305 homicides and 736,014 people, for a rate of 41 homicides per 100,000 residents. In 1993, with 353 killings and 714,622 people, the rate was 49 per 100,000 residents.

If the city, which now has 645,593 residents, finishes the year with 250 homicides, the rate would be 38 per 100,000 residents.

The decline in the first half of the year is welcome news to police officials, who have reported sharp declines in almost every category of crime in the city during the past several years but have been frustrated by their inability to appreciably reduce the number of homicides in the city.

In December, police commanders flooded the streets with officers called in on overtime and reassigned to patrol from desk jobs in a last-ditch initiative to keep the number of homicides below 300.

The city finished the year with 313 homicides.

The frustration was compounded because other cities, including New York, were winning national acclaim for sharp declines in homicides.

Several factors

Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier attributes the decline this year to a factors including increased neighborhood involvement, the dedication of patrol officers and strategies to give greater authority over geographic areas to lower-ranking officials.

"You've got a lot of things in motion at the same time," said Frazier, who took over as police commissioner in 1994, the year after Baltimore set its homicide record.

Frazier acknowledged the significance of possibly finishing the year with fewer than 300 homicides.

"It seems to be a psychological touchstone," he said. "It's sort of like momentum. Neighborhoods have to feel confident and safe."

Community leaders had mixed reactions yesterday to the news of the decline in homicides.

Some said they have noticed a decrease in crime, but others said they have seen little difference.

"It shows there is progress being made," said Florine V. Robinson, executive director of the Coldstream/Homestead/Montebello Community Corp. in Northeast Baltimore. "Police have been working very closely with this community."

`A little safer'

"I do feel a little safer," said Jean Yarborough, head of the Park Heights Networking Community Council in Northwest Baltimore. "It used to be the shooting was almost constant. We don't have that constant barrage of gunfire anymore."

Lucille Gorham, executive di- rector of the Middle East Community Organization in East Baltimore, said drug dealers still dominate the street corners in her neighborhood and that residents still live in fear.

"People are still afraid to walk the sidewalks and sit on their steps at night," she said.

Other crimes down

Delores Farmer, president of the Martin Luther King Improvement Association on the west side, said, "There are still a lot of open-air drug markets here. I have not seen a decrease in that."

Other crimes also declined through May, compared with the first five months of last year: rapes, 23 percent; auto thefts, 18 percent; aggravated assaults, 9 percent; and robberies, 1 percent.

For the first five months of the year, 25,362 serious crimes were reported to the FBI. For the same period last year, the number was 28,249.

Pub Date: 7/03/99

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