When two brothers in their 20s were gunned down as they walked along a Northwest Baltimore street late Thursday afternoon, it pushed the city's homicide total for last year up to 278.
That made 2004 Baltimore's deadliest year since 1999 - in stark contrast to Mayor Martin O'Malley's 1999 campaign pledge to reduce homicides to 175 a year.
Baltimore's homicide tally climbed in 2004 for the second consecutive year, even as major cities such as New York, Chicago and Washington recorded significant reductions.
Chicago had 445 homicides and New York had 565 as of Thursday, police said. There was one killing for about every 6,500 residents in Chicago, and one killing for about every 14,550 residents in New York. In Baltimore, there was one killing for about every 2,350 residents.
But those aren't the numbers that help police.
Because of so-called intelligence-driven policing, agencies across the country are compiling huge databases on everything from where a crime was committed to where victims suffered fatal wounds.
Baltimore is no exception. Some numbers tell little; Thursday was the safest day in 2003; it was the deadliest in 2004. But more relevant statistics provide snapshots of the city's chronic violent crime and can steer police deployments to certain areas at particular times.
For example, the East Baltimore police district recorded as many homicides as the North, Central and Southwest districts combined.
And nearly three of every five homicides occurred between 8 p.m. and 4 a.m.
"That's how we know where to send what groups (of police)," said Acting Police Commissioner Leonard D. Hamm.
While Hamm said the homicide total is only one measurement for determining quality of life for Baltimore residents, he has acknowledged it remains a high-profile barometer of violent crime.
Mayor Martin O'Malley stressed that the city has reduced violent crime, even as the number of homicides has risen the last two years.
More than 300 people a year were killed in Baltimore during the 1990s, but the number dropped to 261 in 2000 and as low as 253 in 2002 before rising to 271 in 2003. Last year's total represents an increase of seven homicides over 2003.
The centerpiece of the plan to reduce killing is a weekly meeting where commanders review binders crammed with more than 400 pages of data and crime maps.
Among the things police have learned is that there are 28 city blocks that have had either a killing or shooting in each of the past five years. So they're targeting those blocks. They also know that three-quarters of all killings occur outside. As a result, they've been trying to push people off street corners through citations.
Besides guiding deployment, the wealth of data can help police with public relations, criminologists say. Law enforcement officials can use the information to assure residents that police know what's happening on the streets.
"It's sort of a reassurance message: `We're on the job. We know what's going on. We're using all this information ... to plan long-term strategy,'" said Ralph Taylor, a criminologist at Temple University.
The data analysis also allows Baltimore officials to say that the city is safe for tourists and residents who are not involved in illegal activity.
Among 2004 homicide victims who were killed through the middle of last month, 88 percent had criminal records, police said.
Among known suspects through the same period, 88 percent had criminal records.
The victims had been arrested an average of 8.2 times. The suspects had been arrested an average of 7.3 times.
The clearance rate for homicides, meaning cases in which there was an arrest or an outside circumstance that prevented the arrest of a suspect, was a little over 60 percent of cases in 2004 - nearly identical to 2003. It was also close to the national average of 62 percent, according to FBI statistics for 2003.
Although detectives say they aren't swayed in their investigations by the status or gender of a victim, the city's homicide victims share certain demographic factors.
"It's amazing how these numbers are consistent," said Lt. Terrence McLarney, who has worked 16 years in the department's homicide detectives division.
Of those killed through yesterday- 246 were men, 246 were black and 92 were between 18 and 24 years of age, according to police.
Most of those victims dying the same way: gunshot wounds. In about three-quarters of the homicides, a gun was the weapon. Of victims who were shot to death, about two-thirds 65 percent were hit more than once. And more than a third were shot in the head.
"These people go to great extents," Chief of Detectives Antonio Williams said of the killersmurderers. "When they target someone, they make sure they're dead.