Six killings over weekend continue spike in city violence

Baltimore police moved Monday to increase foot patrols over the next month and conduct street sweeps of violent fugitives after a weekend that saw six people killed and continued a violent start to 2013.

Baltimore has recorded 35 homicides this year, a 40 percent increase over the same period in 2012. The spike made for the deadliest January and February in the city in four years.

The increase has been particularly alarming to residents of West Baltimore, which has been the scene of 11 killings since Jan. 1. Two men were killed within five blocks of each other there Saturday and Sunday.

One of those victims was shot in the 1900 block of Walbrook Ave. just across from the Church of the Living God, and Bishop William E. Gaines Jr. said he worries about sending his congregants into the night after Monday and Thursday night services.

He pointed out that a man and a woman were killed in the same area Feb. 22. Both victims were shot in the head and found in a car set on fire in the alley behind the 1800 block of Clifton Ave.

"We are concerned," Gaines said. "Definitely it is a problem. There was a double homicide around the corner, just a block and a half down."

Police say they will focus on blocks such as these in the Western District. Police said none of the killings over the weekend appears to be connected.

Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts is concerned enough by the violence to flood the streets with as many patrol officers as he can muster over the next few weeks, a spokesman said.

"You can expect to see a lot more boots on the ground, a lot more officers in the community," police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said. "All these incidents appear to be isolated, but we're definitely going to be working with that district in adding resources."

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake remains confident Batts is taking the right approach to tackle crime, said spokesman Ian Brennan.

Hired in September, Batts oversaw a shift toward more uniformed patrol officers. He reassigned more than 40 officers from specialized units to the streets to bolster Baltimore's police presence and have more officers responding directly to residents' concerns. Rawlings-Blake backed that initiative, and Brennan said Monday she still believes in it.

"It's troubling," Brennan said of the recent violence, but added: "We do take a long view, because what we want is sustained, long-term reduction in crime. It's not about month-to-month, it's about now to the next two years and 10 years."

Last week, the mayor addressed the rising homicide numbers by pointing to drops in violent crime over the past few years but said she wasn't satisfied "until the homicide rate drops dramatically."

Last year, the city recorded 217 killings, about 10 percent more than in 2011. Guglielmi said total crime and most categories of gun violence, however, have declined over the past few years and remain at or below last year's levels.

The concentrated effort to cut down on city killings will last a month, beginning with more officers being sent to a regional warrant task force to hit the streets for two weeks, looking for missing but identified suspects in violent crimes or fugitives with lengthy or violent records.

The initiative will be followed by two weeks during which the department will increase the number of officers walking the streets at all hours, Guglielmi said.

"It'll be nice to see more of a police presence," said Gaines, who grew up in West Baltimore and has been serving as pastor to churches in the area for 38 years. He said the violence seems to be a cycle of retribution. "It seems to be a drug gang territorial situation."

The weekend killings began at 5 a.m. Saturday, when a man was fatally shot in the 1100 block of Barclay St. He has not been identified. Two hours later, Thabiti Wheeler, 33, was found fatally shot in the 300 block of E 221/2 St. Later, at 9 p.m., Western District police responded to the block of 1800 Presbury St., where Maurice Barnes, 20, was found dead.

Sunday afternoon, Twain Robinson, 36, was found fatally stabbed in the 3100 block of Milford Ave. Just an hour and a half later, police found James Servance, 32, on Walbrook Avenue.

And at about 12:30 a.m. Monday, police reported finding a man fatally shot in the 2900 block of Mosher St. His name has not been released.

The tactics police are calling on to reduce homicides this month are modeled after similar tactics used to quell a string of violence last fall that the commissioner blamed on gang fighting.

Between late October and late November, eight people were shot in several incidents along a stretch of Greenmount Avenue, and police pulled 150 officers from administrative positions to bolster patrol units.

The agency also provided district officers for two weeks to the regional Warrant Apprehension Task Force, made up of law officers from the city and Baltimore County, and the U.S. Marshals Service. That move resulted in arrests or cleared warrants on more than 300 cases, including charges of assault, burglary and lesser crimes and violations. The same task force is being counted on to reduce crime this time around.

In the Western District, police plan to send in more special units, including plainclothes officers, to bust up drug rings, gather sources and help out with arrests. Guglielmi said these sorts of surges in enforcement have proved effective. Just last month, police focused on hunting down suspects with outstanding warrants related to robberies.

Pulling more officers from administrative positions to foot patrol also helps make up for 150 patrol vacancies that police have been unable to fill, which could almost make up an entire district by themselves, Guglielmi said.

John Bullock, neighborhood president of the Evergreen Protective Association in West Baltimore, said he welcomes more patrol officers. He said he has noticed a resurgence of loitering around the Evergreen Lawn neighborhood.

"The one thing we're seeing: more people occupying corners and streets," he said. "And more foot patrol would help. Every time a police car would show up, people do disperse."

Baltimore Sun reporter Luke Broadwater contributed to this article.

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