Homicides surging in month of violence

Goals of police, O'Malley to reduce killings at risk

November 06, 2001|By Gady A. Epstein and Allison Klein | Gady A. Epstein and Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

A spike in violence has left eight people dead in four days, forcing Mayor Martin O'Malley and Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris to defend their record on crime at a time when they have focused on terrorism.

Homicides have surged lately - with about one a day since Oct. 1 - to reach 218 for the year, only 12 fewer than this time last year. That virtually obliterates the Police Department's hope of holding the total to 225 for the year.

"We've had a very bad 40 days," O'Malley said last evening. "[It] really hurts on a lot of levels."

Norris said last night that the homicides have been "almost exclusively" related to drug gangs settling scores. He said the solution is to take down the gangs.

O'Malley, whose political fortunes are largely tied to reducing crime, noted that violent crime overall is down significantly.

Still, the spate of killings occurs at a time when O'Malley and Norris have garnered national attention for their efforts to defend the city against terrorism - an issue that now might draw criticism, especially from their political opponents.

"Osama bin Laden is not on Caroline Street," said state Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, an East Baltimore Democrat. "There are major concerns here in our city that first must be addressed."

McFadden also took aim at Norris' job performance, arguing that when there was a spike in crime this spring, he dismissed Deputy Commissioner Barry W. Powell, the department's highest-ranking African-American.

"What goes around, comes around. When there was a significant bump, heads had to roll," McFadden said, going on to discuss Norris' appearance before the City Council in May to defend the dismissal. "He said, `I'm in charge. Hold me accountable.' It's payday."

Norris responded that he did not dismiss Powell because of an increase in crime, but because of other personnel reasons, including Powell's defense of an officer who was accused of misconduct.

O'Malley said he has maintained since Sept. 11 that fighting crime locally is still the priority.

"There's nothing more important to the future of this city than bringing down the homicide rate and bringing down violent crime," he said. "Don't think for a second that we've taken our eye off what we need to do here at home to make the streets of Baltimore safer."

O'Malley and Norris seemed to differ, though, on whether the war on terrorism has distracted from the war on crime. O'Malley said crime-fighting efforts have been strengthened, but Norris said his officers are "stretched thin."

Still, Norris said that given the nature of the killings, more police patrols alone won't be the solution.

"There are some serious drug wars going on out there. We've got to ... take the whole gangs down," Norris said. "It takes a lot of work ... You can't stop this by putting more people on corners."

Six killings have occurred in the past two days. Two women and a man were killed yesterday in separate incidents that police say were unrelated.

An unidentified man was shot at 2 p.m. in a robbery inside Mack's C'est Bon tavern in the 4300 block of Reisterstown Road and died later, police said.

Another patron, 26, also unidentified by police, was shot in the leg and was at Sinai Hospital last night.

Police discovered one of the slain women, Desiree Brown, 34, with gunshot wounds yesterday at 12:30 a.m. in a car in the 2700 block of Walbrook Ave. in Northwest Baltimore.

The second woman, whom police had not identified, was found shot in an apartment in the 5900 block of Radecke Ave. in Northeast Baltimore at 8 a.m.

Found with her in the apartment was Dwyne Jackson, 43, who had been shot four times and was taken to Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, where he was in serious condition last night, police said.

Police said they have no suspects in the three incidents.

Sun staff writer Richard Irwin contributed to this article.

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