January marks fewest monthly homicides since before Baltimore unrest

January had fewest monthly homicides since before Baltimore unrest

Baltimore's homicide rate slowed in January for the first time since last spring's unrest, with 14 killings counted in the first month of 2016.

That is well under half the 33 homicides in the city in December, a month that capped off Baltimore's deadliest year on record in terms of per-capita killings.

"Of course we're pleased to see a decline," said T.J. Smith, a police spokesman. "But certainly, one is one too many."

Two other deaths in January that were initially described as homicides by police have been taken off the list.

The shooting of a 16-year-old Darius Bradney on Jan. 29 was ruled accidental, police said Tuesday.

Also, a stabbing Jan. 30 in the 1400 block of Morris St. in Central Baltimore has been ruled a suicide, police said.

The factors contributing to the decline are not entirely clear.

The number of homicides generally declines during colder months. And there was only one homicide in the city between Jan. 20 and Jan. 28, a period when Baltimore prepared for snow, was covered in more than 2 feet of it, and then spent days trying to dig out.

In a city where gunfire is common, there also are stories of would-be homicides prevented by medical personnel saving lives. As of Jan. 23, nonfatal shootings in the city were up by 36 percent compared with the same period last year, so violence has not been halted.

Still, the decline in deaths is welcome and gives the city a strong start in its efforts to reverse the trend that left 344 dead in 2015. That was the second-highest homicide count in the city's history — after 353 in 1993 — and per-capita the deadliest year on record; the city's population is significantly smaller now than it was in 1993.

Police Commissioner Kevin Davis has said he wants 2015 to be an "asterisk year" in Baltimore's history — standing apart and not setting a new trajectory.

Smith said Baltimore police have benefited from assistance from federal law enforcement agencies, have been taking more guns off the streets in recent months, and have been receiving valuable tips from community members that have been "very helpful capturing bad guys."

"That's momentum we hope to build on in 2016," he said.

Whatever the reason, the January figure is a significant departure from the pace of killings the city endured since the unrest that erupted at the end of April after the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray from injuries suffered while in police custody.

After the unrest, there were 42 homicides in May. Then there were 29 homicides in June, 45 in July, 34 in August, 27 in September, 34 in October and 27 in November. The Police Department's clearance rate for homicides dropped to about 30 percent on the year.

Police have made arrests in five of the 14 killings so far this year.

The first homicide of this year came on New Year's Day, when police reported that 61-year-old Sharon Williams had been killed after Alan Lorenzo Floyd, 59, barricaded the door to her home and then set it on fire. Police identified Floyd as their latest "Public Enemy No. 1," and he was later arrested. In the second homicide of the year, police also made arrests — charging Christopher Wilkins, 32, and Angel Fury, 27, in the beating death of 48-year-old Edward Yesaitis Jr. at the Deluxe Plaza Motel on Pulaski Highway.

Three fatal shootings followed with no arrests.

In the stabbing death of 29-year-old bicyclist Robert Ponsi, three teens — Daquan Middleton, Antwan Eldridge and Prince Greene — were arrested. Michael Jennings was arrested in the blunt-force death of his 2-year-old daughter, Katrina Jennings. Trace Hanse was arrested in the death of Sierra Burley, 29, during a home invasion in which a man was shot as well.

Then, five shootings and a stabbing occurred with no arrests made.

The decline in killings has been particularly noticeable in West Baltimore, where there were 66 homicides in 2015. So far this year, there has been one homicide in the Western District.

That homicide, like so many unsolved killings in 2015, was a shooting of a young black man. James Dankins, 28, was shot in the 1100 block of W. Saratoga St. and died shortly after arriving at a local hospital.

Police identified another victim Tuesday. Lamont Raheem Malloy, 24, was fatally shot in the 1200 block of Patterson Park Avenue.

krector@baltsun.com

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