Crime in city on upward trend

After years in decline, overall rate jumps 4%

some districts bear brunt of higher incidence

April 26, 2006|By GUS G. SENTEMENTES AND JOE PALAZZOLO | GUS G. SENTEMENTES AND JOE PALAZZOLO,SUN REPORTERS

Damon Booze's barbershop in Waverly has been broken into twice in the past several months, with thieves stealing a candy machine and his clippers. He erected a 7-foot-tall wooden wall to protect the rear of his North Baltimore shop.

In Southeast Baltimore, residents and developers are fending off an onslaught of property crimes - the result, police say, of people in revitalized neighborhoods attracting crimes of opportunity.

Nearly five months into the year, the Police Department is grappling with stubborn spates of violence and property crimes in six of the city's nine police districts. Some districts, such as the Northern, have seen a double-digit percentage increase in violent crime. The Southeastern District - composed of such areas as Fells Point, Canton, Patterson Park and Highlandtown - has seen a sharp uptick in property crimes.

Homicides and shootings also have increased over last year, with 86 killings so far this year - 13 more than in the comparable period last year.

For a city with many neighborhoods marked by frenzied redevelopment and soaring real estate prices, police and residents are now finding that crime trends appear to be shifting. Residents and some community leaders are questioning whether officers are being deployed effectively as police face staffing shortages in every district.

With overall crime in decline in recent years, the city's latest trends are cause for some concern at City Hall. Mayor Martin O'Malley - who is running for governor in a contentious race in which city issues are at the center of debate - said he is "open to ideas that work" when it comes to deploying police officers. Citywide, total crime is up 4 percent this year.

"We hope to be able to turn around what has been a pretty violent last few weeks," O'Malley said at a news conference yesterday. "We've had some really solid progress these last six years, progress that our city hasn't seen in 30 years, reducing crime to the lowest level since the 1960s. We're going through this bad spike right now at the beginning of the year. We hope to get on top of it, and we're for things that work."

Police reported 14,965 total crimes in the city through mid-April - nearly 600 more than at this time last year - with the increase being mostly driven by more homicides, shootings, burglaries and robberies.

Along the York Road corridor in North Baltimore - where the district police commander was reassigned this week - shop owners and residents have coped with a frustrating run of burglaries and stickups that some say began late last year. The Northern District has had 358 incidents of violent crime through April 15, compared with 292 incidents for the similar period last year - a 23 percent increase. Property crime there for the same period is up 7 percent.

Constance Thornton's car was broken into last month in her Radnor-Winston neighborhood in North Baltimore, with thieves stealing $27, some pens and pencils and stamps. Last year, her lawn mower and four bicycles owned by her nieces were stolen from her backyard.

"It hasn't always been this way," said Thornton. "Before, we knew everybody. Now we see all sorts of people who look out of place, like they're casing the neighborhood."

In the city's Western and Northwestern districts, police and residents have been dogged by spikes in shootings, assaults and robberies. The Western District has had a 27 percent increase in violent crime, while the Northwestern has had a 32 percent increase.

In some Southeast Baltimore neighborhoods, residents and developers are dealing with an outbreak of burglaries. That district has seen the steepest increase in total crime this year, fueled mostly by burglaries and robberies. But residents are also concerned about nuisance crimes.

"I guess it's more the `quality of life' crimes," said Ed Marcinko, 47, president of the Upper Fells Point Improvement Association. "People passed out drunk on the streets."

The Southeastern's violent crime rate is up 6 percent, while property crimes have jumped 27 percent. As of mid-April, there were 318 burglary reports, compared with 179 reports last year for the similar period.

Councilman James B. Kraft, who represents part of the Southeastern District, said he believes crime increases in his community are the result of a 21-officer shortage.

"When you don't have your full complement of officers, that's naturally going to give you less visibility on the street," Kraft said. "There's a shortage of officers."

Marcus Brown, deputy police commissioner in charge of operations, said that the department has been dealing with new problems in some areas. He pointed to an increase in juvenile crime on the southern edge of the Northern District where it abuts the Eastern District, where police have claimed significant reductions in crime in the past year.

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