City surpasses 2002's homicide total

Two men fatally shot in separate incidents, bringing count to 254

December 19, 2003|By Laurie Willis | Laurie Willis,SUN STAFF

A man fatally shot last night in Walbrook became the city's 254th homicide victim, pushing the number of killings in the city past last year's total.

About 8 p.m., a man was shot in the back multiple times at Garrison Boulevard and Elgin Avenue and died a short time later at Maryland Shock Trauma Center, police said.

In an apparently unrelated incident yesterday, police responded to a call shortly before noon in the 3900 block of Fairfax Road in West Baltimore and found an 18-year-old male suffering from a single gunshot wound to the back of the head, police spokesman Donny Moses said. He was taken to Sinai Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 12:10 p.m., Moses said.

The names of the victims were not released pending notification of the next of kin, and no arrests had been made.

That the city has surpassed the number of homicides recorded last year with 12 days remaining in the year isn't good news for law enforcement officials who have worked hard in recent years to try to reduce the number of homicides.

When Mayor Martin O'Malley took office in 1999, he set a goal of slashing the number of homicides to 175 by 2002. But last year the city recorded 253 homicides, 78 more than O'Malley's target.

Police Commissioner Kevin P. Clark said he thinks it's unfair that the city is measured by its homicide total. "If you want to look at the homicide rate, there are those you're never going to prevent from happening," he said. "If you look at overall crime, the city is much safer."

Clark noted that most of the people who are killed in Baltimore live in certain neighborhoods and are involved in the drug trade. He said that of the 254 homicides this year, 17 are the result of assaults that occurred in previous years but didn't result in deaths until this year. Some occurred more than five years ago.

"Instead of 12 months, you created a 13th month with the number of people who were actually assaulted in previous years," Clark said.

It is common practice to record a homicide in the year in which the victim dies, not the year of the assault. The FBI requires cities to report homicides that way.

Clark said that nonfatal shootings are down more than 11 percent this year and that violent crime is down 15 percent.

But homicides have earned Baltimore a reputation for being a dangerous city in which to live -- second to Detroit in violent crime, according to FBI statistics released this year.

Clark said his office is working closely with other law enforcement agencies to try to reduce the city's homicide toll, as well as other crimes.

"I look at all crime -- every single crime that's going on, from the smallest things that affect people's comfort and security," Clark said. "I spend a lot of time trying to maintain strong relationships with other law enforcement agencies.

"Homicides, yes, it's a key measure that academicians and statisticians are judging cities by. ... I'm always concerned about the number, but if you're going to get hung up on the number, are you actually sitting down and trying to plan tactics and strategies and look at the root cause? It's narcotics in this city, and people need to go to jail. They need to spend their time serving their sentences so the public feels confident that law enforcement, not just the police, can protect them."

Sun staff writer Richard Irwin contributed to this article.

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