November was deadliest month of '08

Spike in killings undermines recent gains, prompts Baltimore police to consider new tactics

December 02, 2008|By Justin Fenton | Justin Fenton,justin.fenton@baltsun.com

A flurry of shootings and killings over the weekend capped Baltimore's deadliest month of 2008, prompting city officials and police to consider new tactics to curtail a spike of violence that threatens to undermine gains they have been publicizing all year.

With 31 homicides, the city experienced the most killings in the month of November in nine years.

The violence came in bunches - a quadruple shooting in Northwest Baltimore that killed three; a triple shooting in Irvington; another triple shooting outside a downtown restaurant.

"There's no denying [November's numbers] stick out like a sore thumb compared to what we've put up all year," police spokesman Officer Troy Harris said.

Harris said department leaders met in recent days to discuss new deployment tactics, though he withheld details other than to say that officials were re-evaluating problem areas and that residents would see a stronger police presence.

Baltimore remains on pace to end the year significantly below last year's total of 282 killings and is virtually assured of recording its lowest total since the late 1980s. Still, officials boasted as recently as early October about a year-to-year drop in homicides of nearly 30 percent. As of yesterday, killings were down 19 percent.

Officials say the department's strategy of targeting violent offenders and building partnerships with the community and other law enforcement agencies works and remains intact.

Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III "made incredibly clear today that he believes in the strategy," said Sheryl Goldstein, head of the Mayor's Office on Criminal Justice. "But the last few weeks have been tough, and the department is looking at adjusting some tactics."

Last week at a community meeting, Mayor Sheila Dixon told residents the spike in violence "disturbs me the way it disturbs you." She lamented the difficult-to-anticipate nature of many killings.

"Some of the cases, even if we had a police officer on every corner, we still wouldn't be able to solve what happened," Dixon said.

That very scenario appears to have played out Sunday night in the 4000 block of Oakford Ave. in Northwest Baltimore. A police car with its lights flashing was stationed outside Great Dalton Baptist Church in response to complaints from the community that local drug gangs had been quarreling.

A 42-year-old man, who did not want to be identified for fear of his safety, said that after the police left, he saw armed gang members climb into a car.

A few minutes later, he heard gunfire. Three men were shot and killed, and a woman was hospitalized. Police could not confirm the man's account yesterday, though officers were at the scene yesterday as crime lab technicians collected bullet casings.

The victims had not been identified yesterday. Police identified other recent homicide victims, including Dawn Williams-Stewart, 41. Police say her husband, Antonio Stewart, 29, shot her during a three-hour standoff in Northeast Baltimore on Sunday night. He tried to hang himself and was taken into custody, though he hadn't been charged as of yesterday.

Police also said Frederick Ward, 24, of the 2300 block of Barclay St., died Nov. 25 as a result of a Nov. 5 shooting. Barclay, a blighted neighborhood just south of Charles Village, had 10 homicides in 2007, many linked to violent drug gangs. But Ward is only the neighborhood's second victim this year.

Bealefeld has maintained that the 2008 homicide drop hasn't been a fluke, and officials said the department hopes to prove that the past three weeks - and not the previous 10 months - is the aberration.

"This will be an anomaly when we look at the grand scheme of things," Harris said.

Baltimore Sun reporter Peter Hermann contributed to this article.

Find more articles, photos and videos about crime as well as Peter Hermann's blog, Baltimore Crime Beat, at baltimoresun.com/crime

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