The killing game

January 03, 2007

The usual suspects. That's the focus of the Baltimore Police Department's explanation of the city's unconscionably high number of murders. The majority of the city's 275 murders in 2006 - more than 80 percent - involved people with criminal records, both the suspected killers and their victims. Bad guys were killing bad guys, that's the bottom line - as though that analysis should make anyone feel safer in a city that remains among the most deadly in the United States.

The usual suspects - most with a violent, drug-involved past - are responsible for committing more murders last year than in 2005, an increase of six. But who's doing the killing shouldn't keep Baltimore residents from demanding that the killing stop. Just because the murder rate ticked up in other cities last year as well, that's not an excuse for law enforcement and the criminal justice system to avoid reassessing their efforts to stop it here.

Violent crime has declined since 2000, as has the number of murders - but not to the degree the O'Malley administration had worked toward. Critics charged that the city was taking the wrong approach, racking up thousands of arrests on minor charges instead of focusing more of its effort on repeat, violent offenders. The criminal characteristics of murder victims and suspects surely underscore that argument.

The O'Malley administration has employed a variety of tactics to stem the tide of homicides, but how many of the most dangerous criminals have been taken off the street and prosecuted for the kinds of crimes that will keep them off the street? Are they receiving the sentences that would put them in prison for years? Those are questions that must be answered to assess the present approach.

With Mayor Martin O'Malley headed to the governor's office, city and community leaders should reassess their response to the homicides in the city. There are 275 reasons for making some changes.

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