City crime levels falling

O'Malley, Norris heartened by drop in violent incidents

`Heading in right direction'

But homicides on pace to exceed last year's total

July 07, 2001|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

Mayor Martin O'Malley and Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris said yesterday that they were heartened by statistics that show violent crime overall is continuing to drop in Baltimore, despite a stubborn homicide rate.

"We are heading in the right direction," O'Malley said. "Things are working."

In recent months, Baltimore has endured several spates of homicides that have had the city on pace to exceed last year's total of 262 killings. Through June 30, 136 people were killed.

O'Malley's long-stated goal is to have fewer than 175 homicides next year. In May, O'Malley said he wants the city to record no more than 200 homicides this year. Yesterday, O'Malley said he "would love to be as close to 200 as possible."

"If it's 220, I'll be proud of these guys," O'Malley said of police in an interview.

O'Malley and Norris said yesterday that homicide totals do not show the entire picture of how the city is battling crime. They both noted a 17 percent decrease in robberies during the first six months of this year, compared with the same period last year.

"It affects a lot more people than the murder rate or shootings," Norris said.

According to police statistics released yesterday, shootings and rapes are down 10 percent, and assaults decreased 16 percent. Most property crimes have dropped slightly. Auto theft has increased 6 percent.

O'Malley and Norris said a major reason for the general decrease was better planning that holds commanders accountable for reducing crime.

They also pointed to an initiative that has flooded East Baltimore with dozens of extra police officers. Since January, violent crime in the Eastern District has dropped 29 percent, statistics show.

Last month, the department shifted those officers -- most on loan from other patrol divisions -- into a single unit called the Mobile Enforcement Team. The new unit will enable police to shift forces more quickly to trouble spots, Norris said.

O'Malley and Norris said they have no intention of pulling the extra officers out of the Eastern District in the foreseeable future.

"This is not a flash in the pan," O'Malley said.

O'Malley also said he was happy with how a major shake-up of the Police Department's command in May has turned out.

"My only regret is that we didn't make the change sooner," O'Malley said.

Norris removed his second-in-command, Barry W. Powell, who was also the department's highest-ranking African-American. Powell's departure sparked an outcry by several black leaders and led to a showdown between Norris and the City Council.

Three of the commanders, including Powell, retired, and one took a demotion to a lower rank.

Several high-profile crimes have occurred during the past six months.

A 17-year-old student was fatally shot outside Lake Clifton-Eastern High School before classes began Jan. 17. A 2-year-old was seriously injured in gang crossfire in East Baltimore in April, and two gunmen fired a fusillade of bullets into a Memorial Day party at 2032 E. North Ave., killing one and wounding 11. Police believe that shooting was sparked by a long-running feud between two gangs.

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