Killings spurt stirs alarm

City police officials press investigations after eight homicides

August 20, 1999|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

Just as Baltimore officials have launched an ambitious effort to reduce gun violence, police are investigating a rash of homicides that left eight people dead in three days this week.

More than 50 people have been shot this month, including 41 in a week. The violence has been scattered throughout the city, with no particular pattern, prompting a new round of top-level police meetings.

Supervisors in the homicide unit were sent to station houses yesterday to brief sergeants and lieutenants, and top commanders said the spate of violence was the leading topic at staff meetings.

"As soon as we identify that there is a group that is driving the violence, then that whole group is going to come down," said Col. John E. Gavrilis, who commands the Criminal Investigation Bureau.

"Drugs play a part some way in most of these incidents, whether its dealers, addicts, or stickup boys," Gavrilis said, noting that detectives have made arrests in two of the latest killings. "We're doing an all-out effort."

On Tuesday, city, state and federal law enforcement officials announced a sweeping plan to reduce violence called Operation Safe Neighborhoods, based on the idea that a few people are responsible for most crime.

Police promised to pinpoint those individuals and take out their drug groups, using state and federal laws to ensure lengthy prison sentences and to send a stern message that people who engaged in violent behavior would be targeted.

The effort began in earnest Wednesday, when city police and federal Drug Enforcement Administration agents arrested four people suspected of involvement in a Park Heights drug gang that had been warned a month ago to stop shooting people, but apparently didn't heed the advice.

Police stress that homicides in Baltimore are down 20 percent, and the year could end with fewer than 300 killings for the first time in a decade.

As of yesterday, 167 people had been killed, compared with 200 at the same time last year.

But as raids and arrests unfold, shootings continue on Baltimore streets. Not one homicide was recorded from Aug. 9 through Sunday, but 41 people were shot -- including two unrelated shootings on the same day, Aug. 11, that left 10 teen-agers wounded.

Two people were killed on Monday and two more Tuesday. Four were slain Wednesday -- the latest Antwan Brown, 18, who was shot three times by two gunmen at Guilford and North avenues.

Police arrested suspects in that shooting as they sped away on bicycles.

Court documents do not give a motive but show the extensive firepower that is on some city streets.

Police said they recovered a fully loaded Lorcin .380-caliber handgun, an M-11 9 mm handgun containing 10 bullets and a box containing 36 9 mm rounds. The two men were charged with first-degree murder and handgun violations. One of the suspects also was charged with shooting two other people during robberies on East Biddle Street -- one in January and another in June.

The shootings this week were scattered -- two on the west side, two on the east side and others in Northeast, Southwest and North Baltimore neighborhoods.

"Sometimes, without rhyme or reason, we go seven or eight days without a homicide," said Maj. Jeffrey R. Rosen, who commands the homicide unit. "Then, without any apparent reason, we have a spate like we had this week."

Authorities said they remain optimistic that the new cooperation with federal authorities and other members of the law enforcement community, such as state parole and probation officers, will help send a unified message that violence will be dealt with swiftly and harshly.

"We're all dealing with the problem together," Gavrilis said.

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