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Fewer than 300 homicides at last

Crime: For the first time in more than a decade, Baltimore's toll for a year breaks a barrier that it had seemed impossible to breach only months ago.

January 01, 2001|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

Police have answered his diagnosis by hitting high-crime areas, targeting violent offenders and making thousands of arrests.

"We're finally allowed to be the police again," said Officer Gary McLhinney, the police union president and sharp critic of the former police administration, which, he said, confused officers with contradictory strategies.

Norris launched a 75-member task force to target violent criminals and to clear a backlog of 54,000 unserved arrest warrants. Since June, officers have arrested 2,614 people, including 114 wanted for murder and 152 wanted in shootings.

Police also targeted 10 drug corners throughout the city and report a reduction in crime at each one. But the most noticeable effect may be in the Eastern District, where at the beginning of the year, violent crime was up 11 percent.

More than 100 officers were sent to the area in August to clear drug corners and arrest dealers. Since then, killings have dropped from 21 to seven and shootings from 79 to 32 over the same period in 1999.

Task force officers made their 3,000th arrest on Dec. 17, one-third for felony drugs, and report stopping and questioning more than 15,000 people.

When the officers first rolled out, Lt. Keith F. Tiedemann said that finding drug dealers was easy. The week before Christmas, he said, he hid in a vacant rowhouse, "and I had to wait an hour before one set up."

Police officials acknowledge that city crime rates are not low enough, but say the drops in violent offenses and homicides give Norris momentum to carry out his programs.

Norris said getting the number of homicides under 300 is "just a beginning of things to come."

Now, he said, "we look at the next big milestone: 200."

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