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Baltimore City

Per capita, Baltimore reaches its highest ever homicide rate

Baltimore isn't back to 1990s homicide rates. It has surpassed them.

Baltimore isn't just back to 1990s-level homicide rates. It has surpassed them — and with a month and a half to go before the year's end.

Given the city's smaller population today, and the stack of killings that occurred in recent days, 2015 has officially become the deadliest year, per capita, in Baltimore history.

A man stabbed to death became the 300th homicide victim of 2015 on Saturday, the first time the city has reached that gruesome milestone since 1999. As of Tuesday evening, five more men had been shot dead, pushing the city's per capita homicide rate — based on the recent population estimate of 622,793 residents — to 48.97 per 100,000 residents. That breaks the record of 48.77 homicides per 100,000 residents set in 1993, when there were an estimated 723,802 city residents and the city hit its highest number of killings ever, with 353.

There have been 21 homicides in November alone with nearly half the month left — continuing a trend of more than a killing per day since the April death of Freddie Gray and the subsequent unrest.

On Tuesday evening, homicide detectives were called to yet another shooting scene in Northeast Baltimore because of the severity of the victim's wounds.

Jeffrey Ian Ross, a criminologist at the University of Baltimore, said the fact Baltimore has reached a new per capita homicide record is as noteworthy as it reaching its 300th homicide of the year. The per capita figure, he said, puts Baltimore's violent year in perspective compared to other cities also experiencing increased violence.

While comparisons of the sheer number of killings in different cities is an "apples to oranges" approach, he said, the per capita comparison "minimizes dissimilar circumstances."

Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein agreed the per capita rate is important, and said it is "heartbreaking to be not only back to where we were, but to be worse."

"I view it as an enormous, heartbreaking tragedy that we've lost so many lives in Baltimore this year — and heartbreaking in the sense that the city had made so much progress in reducing the rate of murders and shootings," he said. "I don't think anybody anticipated that things could turn around so quickly."

While other cities have seen spikes in killings this year, Baltimore's new per capita high sets it apart.

For example, Chicago is nearing 450 homicides on the year, a big increase from recent years. But that is still well below the 942 it saw in 1992, when it had a similar population.

Washington is way up this year, to 144. But that's well below the 472 it saw at its peak in 1990, amounting to a vastly lower per capita rate.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Police Commissioner Kevin Davis have both lamented the homicide rate and have promised to keep fighting to curb it.

"I'm thinking about the families that are losing their loved ones, and the senselessness of violence," Rawlings-Blake said. "We are not giving in to the violence."

Davis said it was "important to pause and vow to continue our collective fight to find a better path forward."

T.J. Smith, Davis' spokesman, said Tuesday that the department will be announcing a "new community stabilization initiative" soon, though he declined to provide details.

Rosenstein said part of reducing the current crime wave will depend on local police and prosecutors, whom he works to assist by bringing federal cases, finding a new footing in today's modern policing environment.

"There's a sweet spot that the police department and the state's attorney's office need to agree on, where the police are being proactive but not overzealous," Rosenstein said.

Even when they find that spot, the turnaround likely won't be immediate, he said.

"We've seen that things can turn for the worse very quickly, but it usually takes a long time to change things for the better," he said. "There is no switch you can turn off to drop the homicide rate in half, which is what we need to do."

krector@baltsun.com

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