"A lot of these cats got dreams — they don't want to do this [drug dealing]," Lawrence Davis, 35, of the Coldstream-Homestead-Montebello neighborhood, said as he looked on at the shooting near City College. "There aren't enough opportunities, and this is all they know."

City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young said police need to boost foot patrols. But he placed much of the blame for the increase in violent crime on the economy.

"Until we're able to create employment opportunities for our citizens in Baltimore, and to address the drug problem that we have in Baltimore, I don't see where we're going to really get out of this," he said.

Police statistics show that total crime dipped slightly, about 2 percent, in 2013. Arrests fell 10 percent, continuing a precipitous drop.

The hardest-hit area of the city this year was West Baltimore. The Western District recorded 43 homicides, the most there since 2003.

Police and prosecutors see progress in the large-scale indictments that have taken suspected gang members and drug crews off the streets. One federal indictment charged 48 alleged Black Guerrilla Family gang members.

Bernstein said those cases represent a "sea change" in the way police and prosecutors work together to tackle drug networks.

"Historically, you didn't have that level of collaboration," he said. "You have to be strategic and you have to be focused."

Prosecutors have combined intelligence from police with conspiracy laws to piece together the cases, Bernstein said. The goal, he said, is to go from neighborhood to neighborhood taking down criminal groups. He said Baltimore should expect more such cases in the coming year.

Bernstein defeated 15-year incumbent Patricia C. Jessamy in 2010. Now defense attorney Russell Neverdon and former prosecutor Marilyn Mosby have announced challenges to Bernstein.

Both say Bernstein hasn't done enough to address what critics call a "revolving door" of offenders moving through the court system. They also have criticized what they say has been a lack of transparency from his office.

Batts came to the Baltimore Police Department from California in late 2012. He has been working to make changes to the agency while grappling with high turnover among the ranks.

He unveiled a strategic plan in November that included a host of recommendations that he says will improve the department over time.

Larry Young, the former state senator who hosts a radio show on WOLB-AM, said he believes the commissioner has the support of the majority of his audience.

"I feel he's certainly got his ears to the ground, and he's out much more than the public perceives," said Young, who has had Batts on his show throughout the year. "If you ask the question, 'Do you believe that the department is doing what it can?' right now, I do give a vote of confidence."

Keisha Allen, president of the Westport Neighborhood Association, said she hopes the Police Department's focus on disrupting gangs will pay off, though it's not a major issue in her neighborhood.

"If you talk about gangs in Westport, they'll laugh," she said.

For Allen and her neighbors, the key issues revolve around blight and a lack of opportunities. She said city officials are too focused on the downtown waterfront and need to focus on bolstering other neighborhoods.

"The southern end needs to be developed," she said. "And maybe if people had jobs they wouldn't do dumb things like steal copper from the light rail."

Darroll Cribb, who leads the Upton neighborhood association, said, "It all boils down to jobs, well-paying jobs for people to not only survive but to be able to live on."