City homicides, shootings rise

So far, 64 people killed in '07 compared with 58 in '06

figures show drop in robberies, assaults

March 24, 2007|By Gus G. Sentementes | Gus G. Sentementes,Sun reporter

The pace of homicides and shootings in Baltimore this year continues to surpass last year, but other key indicators -- such as robberies and aggravated assaults -- are showing a significant decline, according to the latest city crime figures.

Through yesterday, 64 people had been killed in Baltimore this year. For the same period last year, 58 people had been slain, police said.

Police say many of the killings have been the result of disputes among people engaged in the illegal drug trade or in other illicit activities.

However, there have also been several cases of innocent people killed in street robberies or by stray bullets fired by members of warring drug factions.

Deputy Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III said the department has become more focused on trying to get guns off the streets and that commanders are being pushed to "police to the problem."

He pointed to the city's robbery figures, which increased last year -- part of a broader national trend -- but have declined this year by 19 percent. Felony aggravated assaults are down 21 percent.

"This city is not a one-size-fits-all policing environment," Bealefeld said. "We have to have strategies, literally, for every single post in this Police Department, and we have to hold people accountable for that."

This week at City Hall, Mayor Sheila Dixon presided over a series of emergency community meetings, where youths, community activists, educators and neighborhood leaders spoke out about the city's crime problems.

Many talked about the need for more police officers walking foot patrols in their neighborhoods. Others noted that some of the city's districts need more police officers.

Anthony McCarthy, a Dixon spokesman, said the ideas presented to the mayor were compiled and will be scrutinized.

"We began the process of sifting through and finding out where we can have an immediate impact on some of these neighborhoods, some of these schools," McCarthy said. "The mayor plans to reach out to these leaders and ask for their help. Time is of the essence. People want to see some immediate results."

The crime data showed another continuing trend: declining arrests. This year, total arrests have declined 14 percent compared with the same period in 2006, while the number of people released without charges has dropped 25 percent, the statistics show.

For more than a year, the Police Department has been criticized for what some have characterized as flawed arrest practices, which resulted in thousands of people being released without charges.

Police officials say they responded to the criticism by offering more training to officers. Last year, arrests totaled 90,283, compared with 99,980 in 2005, according to police.

Bealefeld said the Police Department has been focused on targeting known offenders who are most likely to be involved in committing violent acts.

"There are good things occurring. We are listening [to the community]. We don't agree with the strategy of coming in and arresting everybody," he said.

Jack Baker, president of the Southern District Police Community Relations Council, said that there has not been a homicide or serious incidence of violence in the Cherry Hill neighborhood for the past four months.

He credited the progress to better police deployment by commanders. In the past, the department's housing unit officers policed the projects, and operated separately from the district command.

But a small group of housing officers has been assigned to the district's operations squad, in an effort to better coordinate law enforcement efforts.

"It's strictly police work that has cleared Cherry Hill up this year," Baker said.

gus.sentementes@baltsun.com

Baltimore Violent Crime Statistics

Homicides* Nonfatal shootings* Forcible rapes Robberies Aggravated Assaults

2007: 64 2007: 145 2007: 20 2007: 699 2007: 993

2006: 58 2006: 109 2006:21 2006: 865 2006:1,260

* Note: All statistics are based on Baltimore Police Department data compiled through March 17, except for homicide and nonfatal shooting figures, which were updated through yesterday at noon. The figures indicate the number of crime victims in each category.

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