By Kevin Rector and Jessica Anderson, The Baltimore Sun
9:37 PM EDT, June 28, 2013
Residents can expect to see a "dramatic" law enforcement increase this weekend and through the July Fourth holiday, as city and police officials search for ways to tamp down a spree of deadly violence.
Police officials vowed to deploy up to three times the number of officers typically on the streets over the weekend, with the city's patrol forces being joined by officers from the Maryland State Police, the Maryland Transportation Authority and the Baltimore City sheriff's office.
In another show of police force, authorities made the rare move Friday of closing off a city block on Bennett Place with metal fences, allowing only residents from the block to enter after a third person was shot and killed in the area since February.
A total of 35 people have been shot in the city since June 21.
"We are increasing our deployments throughout all of the hot spots over the course of the week," said Sgt. Eric Kowalczyk, a Baltimore police spokesman.
But some questioned the so-called saturation patrols. The increased presence comes at a time when the Police Department is on track to exceed its overtime budget for the fiscal year, which comes to a close after this weekend. The department also exceeded its budget last year.
Fraternal Order of Police President Robert F. Cherry Jr. said the saturation plan is not sustainable, while City Councilman James Kraft questioned whether it would sap resources from some neighborhoods to flood troubled ones.
Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts attributed the crime spike on Friday to warring gangs, retaliatory shootings and club violence. He also said conflicts at the city jail — in the spotlight for a scandal involving corrections officers allegedly working with gang members — may be playing out in city neighborhoods.
"There are some issues that are taking place inside the jail facility that are spilling out to the streets," he said in an interview with Baltimore Sun columnist Dan Rodricks on WYPR-FM. "We believe there's a connection at the jail that's spilling out on the street. But I don't want to get too much more into that."
Batts also questioned the effectiveness of the court system as a deterrent.
"Our criminals on the streets are more willing to take a charge on murder because they think they can get off with our juries," he said.
The violence continued to play out as the weekend neared.
Just after 9 p.m. Thursday, between 50 and 100 residents on Elmora Avenue in the Four by Four neighborhood of Northeast Baltimore milled around outdoors in small cliques and circles, arguing among themselves in what police would later describe as a "community altercation."
Suddenly, police said, bullets were fired into the crowd, and three women were injured. One, 21-year-old Gennie Shird of Pen Lucy, was pronounced dead before 10 p.m.
Hours later, on the city's west side, an unidentified 26-year-old Glen Burnie man was shot in the city's Harlem Park neighborhood, becoming the city's 14th homicide victim in half as many days. Officers were called at 5:22 a.m. to the 900 block of Bennett Place and found the victim suffering from gunshot wounds to his head and chest.
"It's just sad, senseless," said Antoinette Parrine, who has lived in the neighborhood for the past three years. Since February, three men have been killed outside her door on Bennett Place.
Across the shaded steps where she sat Friday with her dog, Freddie, were several dozen balloons still inflated after a vigil for another victim, 37-year-old Maurice Taylor, held earlier in the week. Taylor was killed Sunday.
She pointed to a dustpan and broom next to the steps, covered in melted candle wax from the vigil. She said Taylor often spent time picking up trash on the street. On the other side of the steps, she pointed to where his head lay after he was shot. She said his hat was blown off.
"He did all these things for the little kids" in the neighborhood, Parrine said, who has two young grandsons who live on the same block.
Next week, many of the neighbors who attended Taylor's vigil plan to come together again to remember another neighbor, 38-year-old Michael Jones, who went by "Flat Top." She said they planning a barbecue for his birthday in Carroll Park. He was shot in February.
Parrine said she feared Friday's shooting could have hit closer to home. Her two grown daughters leave the house five minutes before 6 a.m. each day to go to work — one is a medical assistant, the other works in medical billing.
But one daughter held them up Friday. She had to stop to use the bathroom one last time before leaving the house.
"She could've been outside" at the time of the shooting, she said.
"I'm so sick of it," she said of the violence.
A large "mobile police station" bus was parked at Fremont Avenue and Bennett Place. The tactic has been used in Baltimore in the past but less frequently after a federal appeals court ruled that similar efforts in Washington were a violation of constitutional rights.
At two corner stores, H and H Grocer and UAC Food Mart, shoppers did a double-take when they saw the officers and several marked police cruisers.
"They have been around walking the block, but that doesn't seem to stop it," said Patrick Johnson, 32, who lives nearby.
After Friday's shooting, he said, he's looking to move. He will no longer let his three boys, ages 10, 8, and 5, play outside when he's not home. Even when he is home, he said he's reluctant to go outside himself. After working at his job in demolition, he said, he'd like to just sit outside on his steps and sip a beer, but he can't.
"It makes me scared to sit outside," he said. "It doesn't feel safe."
The total number of city killings this year now stands at 116, the highest midyear homicide count since the summer of 2007.
At that time, the city was in crisis. With 155 homicides at the end of June, it was on pace to reach 300 homicides by the end of the year, a number the city hadn't seen since the 1990s. In July 2007, Frederick H. Bealefeld III was named acting commissioner and charged by Mayor Sheila Dixon with curbing the rise.
Over Bealefeld's tenure — he was replaced by Anthony W. Batts last year — the city's homicide numbers dropped. In 2011, the city finished the year with 197 — the first count below 200 since the 1970s.
Before this week, the city had been closer to the midyear homicide average from recent years.
City officials say police need help solving the crimes.
"We can't accept this," said Maj. Richard Worley of the Northeast District, after Shird and the two other women were shot. "We need the citizens' help."
Shird did not have a criminal history, according to online court records. Her family could not be reached for comment.
The other wounded women, who have not been identified, were transported to area hospitals. One was initially listed in critical condition; the other was shot in the thigh and released after treatment.
Officers at the scene Thursday night fanned out and "spoke to several witnesses on the block," police spokesman Detective Vernon Davis said, and police were looking for "persons of interest" Friday. Police believe the shooting was related to a string of prior shootings.
At the Bennett Place homicide, there were no known witnesses and Davis said investigators were looking at possible connections between Friday's homicide and Taylor, who was killed Sunday.
Batts emphasized that the community was cooperating with police and providing information. He said violence in the city had been "trending down" before the past week.
"We're on top of the gang-related stuff and responding to it quickly," he said.
Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton contributed to this article.
Copyright © 2013, The Baltimore Sun