City crime drops 13% Norris says

Homicides remain well above pace seen last year

New way to count killings

Nonfatal shootings, robberies, burglaries and assaults drop

September 20, 2000|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

While killings in Baltimore remain well above last year's pace, crime overall has dropped 13 percent in the first nine months of 2000, the city's police commissioner said yesterday.

Almost every category of criminal offenses shows a decline, including nonfatal shootings. Robberies are down 19 percent, burglary 16 percent and assaults 15 percent. Auto theft is one exception; it has jumped nearly 10 percent over last year.

Commissioner Edward T. Norris called the homicide figures a source of continuing frustration, but said the other crime drops are encouraging.

The closest he came to taking credit was by noting a drop in nonfatal shootings, from 675 at this time last year to 546 as of yesterday. "We turned the corner on that," Norris said.

The new commissioner released the numbers at a news conference - the first of planned monthly meetings with reporters.

He used the briefing to address a range of issues, including corruption, and he offered an overview of his first five months in office. He was appointed in April and charged with quickly reducing crime in one of the nation's most violent cities.

One of his biggest challenges was to clear a backlog of internal investigations that he complained clogged the system and obscured serious cases of corruption.

Norris said that the Internal Affairs Division has investigated 596 complaints since Jan. 1 and that 451 officers have been recommended for and accepted punishment, which ranges from letters of reprimand to fines, suspensions or loss of vacation days.

Thirty-six officers retired or resigned to avoid discipline. Thirty-one challenged punishment recommendations at a trial board, and Norris said 13 were found not guilty and 18 were convicted.

Three of those officers were fired. The most serious case was that of an officer convicted of taking a bribe from a drug dealer seven years ago.

Norris also announced a new way of counting killings and how homicide statistics are released to the public.

City police keep a tally of killings that can be obtained by the news media every day. Those numbers are for all homicides, including ones ruled "justified," such as killings determined by prosecutors to have been in self-defense.

At the end of each year, the number is typically adjusted to include only "unjustified" homicides. Norris said the department now will give out only the numbers of killings ruled "unjustified" in its daily updates. He believes that number is a better reflection of violence in the city. .

Until yesterday, the Police Department's official homicide count from Jan. 1 through Sept. 18 stood at 211, compared with 194 at the same time in 1999. Under the new method of reporting, there have been 205 unjustified homicides so far this year, compared with 190 last year.

The change could alter comparisons to previous years, but officials said the numbers will be off by four at most. The number of homicides in 1999, as previously released by police, was 309. The new rules drop that to 305 - the number that is reported to the FBI, the national repository for crime statistics.

Last year was the 10th consecutive year in which more than 300 people were killed in the city.

Police stress that the change in reporting is not a subtle way of reducing the number of killings through use of creative statistics. "If it was that easy, we'd have done this years ago," Deputy Commissioner Bert Shirey said.

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