While gun violence drove Baltimore’s homicide numbers up last year, the number of children shot and killed in the city dropped to the lowest level in at least a decade.
Three children under 18 were shot and killed in 2013, down from five the year before, to continue a five-year decline. From 2006 to 2008, the death count reached 20 or more each year.
Advocates for youth called those declines an encouraging sign in a year in which the city’s streets turned more deadly. Baltimore ended 2013 with 235 homicides, the most in four years. Nonfatal shootings also increased, after six consecutive years of declines.
Young adults were not spared. There were 40 fatal shootings of those 18 to 21, the next age group tracked by state juvenile services, up from 36 in 2012 and 25 in 2011.
The average age of city homicide victims in 2013 was 31, unchanged from recent years.
“We’ve taken a holistic approach to protecting our most vulnerable youth, driving down juvenile homicides [over time] by more than 50 percent,” Gov. Martin O’Malley said in a statement. “With smarter interventions ... we’re healing families and rescuing our kids from drug gangs.”
Sam Abed, secretary of the state’s Department of Juvenile Services, traces the reduction in violence against the youngest Baltimoreans to factors that include greater supervision of youth at risk and expanded early childhood education and nutrition programs.
“We’re seeing overall crime rates for juveniles declining,” Abed said. “As much as I’d like to take credit, there’s a larger effect that’s happening.”
Al Passarella, research coordinator for Advocates for Children and Youth, said juvenile arrest rates have declined along with the homicide rate — evidence that juveniles are being provided job and educational opportunities and getting out of the justice system rather than staying in.
“That gets to the root of the behavior,” Passarella said. “The numbers suggest this is having an impact.”
Juvenile justice officials say they have zeroed in on youth most at risk — especially those under state supervision after being arrested — and have offered them a range of services.
Children in the state Violence Prevention Initiative have up to five weekly face-to-face contacts with a caseworker.
“Everybody ... will start with a GPS monitor,” Abed said of the program. “As their behavior and compliance improves, we can back off some of those things. We want to dial back some of the contacts so they don’t interfere if they’re making progress.”
In Baltimore, the Violence Prevention Initiative works in conjunction with a program called Operation Safe Kids. The program, run with the city Health Department, provides case management and monitoring to about 350 high-risk kids.
Each participant is assigned a “youth worker who becomes a presence in the child’s life and coordinates a treatment service plan,” the program website states.
The number of youths shot while under Department of Juvenile Services supervision has declined — four of the 26 victims in 2013 were being monitored by the department at the time of the incident, down from 31 in 2009.
Abed also credits Baltimore’s Department of Social Services, noting a decline in the number of children placed in group homes in recent years.
“We’ve had a period of good leadership in multiple agencies, working on the same agenda,” Abed said. “When we team up and work together, we have good results.”
Scores of community-based programs are aimed at helping juveniles, but some youth advocates say more needs to be done.
“We need more programs, more funding for youth,” said Bobby Marvin Holmes, who recently produced a documentary film called “Live Young Blood” that focuses on problems facing urban juveniles.
For years, teenage shooting victims represented the majority of juvenile homicides in Baltimore. The number shifted in 2012, when authorities say more infants were killed by parents or caretakers. In 2013, five infants were killed by guardians. Four teenagers were killed in shootings or stabbings.
The children who died in Baltimore violence this year were among the city’s most conspicuous victims. They included 15-year-old Deshaun Jones, who was among seven people shot on a West Baltimore street in August, and 1-year-old Carter Scott, who was hit when men tried to shoot his father in Cherry Hill. Police said Michelle Adrian, a 17-year-old from Frederick County, was shot when she and a friend drove into the city to buy drugs.
Deontae Smith, 15, was stabbed to death as he left the Ravens Super Bowl victory parade. Diamond Williams, a 16-year-old girl, was killed in July by Shaquille Anthony, 19, who police say died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound that night.