Killing breaks Annapolis record

Halloween shooting, year's eighth homicide, stirs debate about policing public housing

November 02, 2007|By Justin Fenton | Justin Fenton,Sun reporter

The fatal Halloween night shooting of an 18-year-old Annapolis man pushed the city's homicide tally to eight, breaking last year's record with two months left and fanning a heated debate over policing in public housing.

Trick-or-treaters and others gathered around the body of Jerome D. Hughes of the 300 block of Bloomsbury Square, who was shot just before 7 p.m. in the College Creek Terrace community, said Officer Hal Dalton, a spokesman for the Annapolis Police Department.

Critics said a killing during prime trick-or-treating hours underscores flaws in the city's policing strategy. They say the agency lacks manpower and should move toward community-based crime prevention.

"It would've been exactly the time you would want your community-based police officers to be out walking in the neighborhood, making sure that kids feel safe and secure," said Trudy McFall, former chairwoman of the city agency that oversees its 10 public housing complexes and recent founder of Citizens for a Better Annapolis.

"If you had some targeted hot spot areas, [the site of the killing] is where they would've been. To me, [the killing] continues to suggest we have a serious problem and that we've got to try some new approaches to it."

City and police officials have struggled this year to combat the perception of rising crime. The homicides have been accompanied by a string of highly publicized robberies that prompted community meetings.

Overall, officials say, violent crime was down 8 percent during the first six months of this year compared with the corresponding period last year.

"One crime is too many crimes in any community, but we're showing some major accomplishments," Police Chief Joseph Johnson said in a recent radio interview. He was unavailable for comment yesterday.

Annapolis, with a population of about 35,000, set a record last year with seven killings. That did not include a fatal shooting involving the police. Anne Arundel County, with a population of about 510,000, has had 11 homicides this year.

All of the city's homicides this year have been in or around public housing communities or private low-income developments.

This year's figure also includes the previously unreported death in May of a 29-year-old man who had been beaten in a public housing community. Norman Watts of President Street died of his injuries seven days after the incident.

Ray Weaver, a spokesman for Mayor Ellen O. Moyer, said the city's approach to reducing homicides has been to focus on providing social services, specifically to residents of public housing.

"It concerns us very much," Weaver said of the rising number of homicides. "We can put all the cops on the street we want ... but until we can find a way to address the deeper social issues, it's not going to do any good."

At age 18, Hughes was a drifter who lived with relatives or in vacant buildings. He had been charged twice with crimes as an adult, court records show.

He was awaiting a December trial on drug possession charges after prosecutors dropped charges of drug distribution. Last year, he was charged with possessing a handgun, drug possession and distribution, and theft. Prosecutors said the case was sent back to District Court on Oct. 3.

Justin.fenton@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Nicole Fuller contributed to this article.

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