Brisk pace of killings resumes

City officials struggle for relief as 8 more die within three days

September 18, 2007|By Gus G. Sentementes | Gus G. Sentementes,Sun reporter

For six weeks, City Hall enjoyed a sense of quiet optimism as the year's rapid pace of shootings and homicides seemed to slow. But yesterday, after Baltimore's deadliest weekend of the year, the mayor and interim police commissioner were once again struggling for answers.

Frederick H. Bealefeld III, the acting commissioner, said he and his commanders are reviewing their tactics. And Mayor Sheila Dixon is still deciding whether Bealefeld is the right person for the job.

"It was a horrible weekend," Dixon said in an interview. "I never want to see another weekend like this."

The mayor called many of the slayings "intentional incidents" in which the victims were targeted by killers armed with illegal handguns and who likely had criminal records themselves. "We've got to get a hold of these folks and put them behind bars," she said. "We need to say we're not going to tolerate this."

Three men were fatally shot on city streets in broad daylight. Three more men were slain at night - one shot inside a Southwest Baltimore bar, another stabbed in a South Baltimore apartment and a third gunned down on an east-side street.

Later yesterday morning, about 10:45, a Morgan State University student was fatally shot on East Cold Spring Lane. And about 11:30 last night, a man was shot in the back of the head in Cherry Hill - pushing Baltimore's homicide toll to 223 - 29 more than at the same time last year.

The city's NAACP branch has been asking city residents to post cards in their windows that show the daily homicide count. Marvin "Doc" Cheatham Sr., the branch president, said outrage is needed. "I'm just shaking my head in disbelief," he said. "It just shows the community needs to respond to this."

This most recent violence came on the first weekend after the Sept. 11 primary that was easily won by Dixon, who said a day later that all department heads would have to interview for their positions. That includes Bealefeld, who has been acting commissioner since Dixon asked his predecessor, Leonard D. Hamm, to step down in July.

Former Washington police Chief Charles H. Ramsey has said he has interviewed for the Baltimore position and would like the job, though Dixon has given no indication when she might make a decision.

For most of last week, Baltimore had recorded one homicide - a woman killed in a domestic dispute with her boyfriend, who later committed suicide. Police statistics showed that homicide detectives were making arrests in more cases in recent months, including more for slayings that occurred in previous years.

The pace of nonfatal shootings also was slowing. In the 28-day period before Sept. 1, 35 people were wounded in shootings, compared with 60 victims for the same period last year. The numbers are still up for the year, however. Through yesterday, police say 514 people have been wounded by gunfire this year, compared with 440 last year.

Victims targeted

In at least seven of the slayings this weekend and yesterday, Bealefeld said, the victims appeared to have been targeted in some way.

In at least some of the cases, Bealefeld said, the killings appeared to be a consequence of "arguments that run very deep - very, very deep. ... These seem to be very personal cases."

Bealefeld said that police in the Northeastern District will review how officers are deployed during the day, in response to the double fatal shooting that occurred about 4:30 p.m. Sunday when two men were shot in the 3400 block of Belair Road at a busy intersection with Erdman Avenue.

"We're working our asses off trying to figure out who killed these guys," Bealefeld said.

The commissioner said police will also be working with community members in Southwest Baltimore after 20-year-old John J. Christen was fatally shot in the Top Shelf Lounge. In March, a man was stabbed and then shot during an altercation at the bar.

He said the department is trying to focus more on gun crimes and shootings, and he has added more detectives to squads that investigate nonfatal shootings across the city. Police say that many of the suspects and victims who survive shootings end up being involved in homicides.

Bealefeld also said homicide detectives are regularly meeting with officers and detectives in the city's nine districts to share intelligence and to target known violent offenders. "We need to get very specific on who we're going after," the commissioner said.

No arrests made

Police said that no arrests had been made in these slayings that occurred over the weekend:

Qafim Kaba, 29, fatally stabbed in a Cherry Hill apartment early Saturday.

John J. Christen, 20, shot at the Top Shelf Lounge in Southwest Baltimore early Saturday.

Brian Smith, 27, shot in the 2300 block of E. Oliver St. about 11 a.m. Saturday in East Baltimore. Police said he was the second man killed on that block in the past five weeks.

Two unidentified men, shot Sunday afternoon in the 3400 block of Belair Road in Northeast Baltimore.

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