Baltimore will end the year with declines in nearly every category of crime used to track the city's progress, in spite of a bad economy and even as police lock up fewer people.
The drops continue a three-year trend of a plunge in total gun crime in the city. Murders have fallen about 7 percent to 222, giving the city its lowest murder rate since the late 1980s, just before the crack cocaine epidemic sent crime soaring across the country.
Non-fatal shootings have fallen nearly 40 percent since 2007, while reported robberies, which police said would be a focus this year, dropped eight percent compared with a year ago.
It's all happening as police make fewer arrests. There were 110,000 arrests in 2005, the climax of the city's zero tolerance strategy; this year, police are poised to arrest fewer than 70,000 people. The difference is equivalent to the population of Hagerstown.
"We've just been building and building," said Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III. "This is not a story about 2010. This is a story about 2008, 2009, and where we are now and moving forward. We're on rare ground."
Since 2007, when Bealefeld assumed control of the Police Department amid resurgent crime, police have focused on targeting the worst of the worst – Bealefeld has often referred to his strategy as fishing with a spear instead of a net. Officials say cooperation with state and federal officials has also been key.
"We've taken a very critical look at what works and what doesn't," said Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who took over as mayor early this year.
The city's crime declines come in the context of a nationwide drop that defies predictions that a down economy would fuel higher crime rates. Other cities, including Philadelphia and Los Angeles, have seen larger drops in recent years and some are at four-decade lows. That has kept Baltimore, despite its declines, near the top of lists that rank most violent cities.
U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein said many of those cities had begun their decline years earlier.
"Baltimore was lagging," Rosenstein said. "Crime was dropping across the country, but it stayed high in Baltimore. What you have seen the last few years is tremendous progress. And keep in mind, it takes a lot of effort just to keep it where it is. The second challenge is to drive it down even further. If we stick with this strategy, you'll see continued improvement."
The declining numbers bring little solace to those that have lost loved ones to street violence.
David Douglas, who grew up in West Baltimore and went on to become a lawyer and vice president of an adult services company, buried his nephew, Davon Douglas, in late November. Davon was fatally stabbed in Southwest Baltimore.
"If you stay there for any length of time, Baltimore will take somebody from you," said Douglas.
His nephew had a drug record, and his father had died years earlier from AIDS, a result of a drug addiction. On a walk through the neighborhood, young people pass by liquor stores and drug slingers who are trying to recruit, he said.
Douglas said he remembers his 28-year-old nephew as friendly, outgoing, respectful and talented. His funeral service attracted a large crowd.
"My nephew mattered, if not to others, then to us, his family," Douglas said.
Kim Kennebrew left Cherry Hill to join the military, and now lives outside Atlanta. But her daughter, Randol Buncombe, gravitated back to relatives the city, and on Oct. 25 was fatally shot. Another man was shot and wounded, and Kennebrew believes the bullet was not intended for her daughter.
"I'm hurting every day," Kennebrew said. "It's sad. It just keeps going on."
Overall, violent crime has declined about 4 percent and property crime dropped 3 percent compared with 2009. The only category of crime that increased was reported rapes, which were down until the summer when The Sun reported that for years Baltimore had led the country in the number rape claims dismissed by detectives. Police immediately instituted new protocols, and as of Dec. 18 reported rapes were up 34 percent.