Crime in city drops 9% in first half of 1999

Decrease in 7 categories, including rape, murder, continues 4-year trend

September 08, 1999|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

Crime in Baltimore dropped more than 9 percent during the first half of the year, continuing a four-year downward trend that has made the city the safest it has been in a decade, city police reported yesterday.

The department said crime has decreased in each of seven major categories tracked by the FBI, including a 20 percent reduction in homicide and rape; a 13 percent reduction in burglaries, a 14 percent drop in auto theft and a 1 percent drop in robbery.

Statistics reveal that during the first six months of this year, compared with the same period in 1998, violent crime dropped nearly 5 percent and property crime nearly 11 percent. The total number of crimes dropped 9.4 percent.

Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier credited the "courage and conviction" of officers and his strategies, such as targeting guns and putting lieutenants in 24-hour charge of geographic beats.

"Neighborhood residents really do know the names and faces of their patrol officers," he said.

Police said that in 1994, 94,937 city crimes were reported to the FBI, which tracks a variety of offenses, including murder, rape, robbery, burglary, assault and vehicle theft. That figure dropped to 72,496 in 1998 and is projected to be 62,640 this year.

During that time, however, Baltimore's population also decreased. There were 736,014 city dwellers in 1990 -- a number that dropped to 714,622 in 1993 and to 645,593 today.

Police singled out the drop in the city's homicide rate -- 177 killings occurred through August, down from 211 at the same time last year -- which has been above 300 a year since 1990 and made Baltimore the fourth-deadliest city per capita in the nation.

The high number of slayings have frustrated city officials, who found it difficult to hail the lower crime statistics when citizens were being killed at a steady pace. But if this year's numbers hold, 1999 could be the first time this decade that fewer than 300 people are killed.

Despite the falling numbers, crime has been a central issue in the mayoral campaign, with each candidate calling for tough measures to reduce homicides and end open-air drug markets.

Two of the leading candidates -- Martin O'Malley and Lawrence A. Bell III -- have called for a change in police leadership and advocated that police implement "zero tolerance." In that approach, officers target every crime -- no matter how trivial -- to get offenders off the streets.

The other leading contender for City Hall, Carl Stokes, said he would continue community policing but take a tough stand against drug dealers. He has said zero tolerance would unfairly target minority residents.

Frazier has rejected zero tolerance -- widely credited with crime reductions in New York -- for years, arguing that it would invite civil rights abuses and overwhelm strained jails and courts.

Yesterday, Frazier noted the recent troubles New York has had, much of it blamed on tough law-enforcement tactics employed by officers, including the shooting death of an unarmed immigrant that sparked widespread protests.

"We have seen where New York has gone in terms of civil rights violations, and I'm not going to take this department there," said Frazier.

Pub Date: 9/08/99

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