As Baltimore struggles with record-breaking violence, Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said the department will focus on arresting more killers and clearing more homicide cases, in addition to other initiatives to reduce crime.
Harrison and Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young spoke of various efforts by police and others at a City Hall news conference Monday as the city closes another deadly year, with at least 347 homicides recorded as of Tuesday morning.
“We’re working to solve this problem from all angles because it will take all of us to change the culture of violence in our city," Young said at the event, held shortly before another man was shot and killed in Carrollton Ridge in Southwest Baltimore.
Harrison said those committing violence aren’t afraid of consequences, because too many cases are never solved. But he said clearing cases will help get those responsible off the streets and deter others from committing violent crimes in the first place.
Baltimore recorded its highest murder rate per capita this year, but has struggled to make arrests. The department has cleared - a measure of arrests, suspects dying before trial and other factors — just 32.1% of homicides this year, one of its lowest rates in the last three decades. The department has closed only eight in the past two months, and only three this month, detective Jeremy Silbert said last week.
It has since closed another with the arrest of a man charged with killing a 7-month old baby.
In 2010, Baltimore’s rate was 56%, which was the national average for similarly sized cities, according to statistics compiled by The Sun. But the city’s clearance rate has dropped even as violence escalated. In 2015 only 30.5% of cases cleared, the data shows.
The national homicide clearance rate is nearly twice as high, and cities with a population of more than 500,000 had a clearance rate of 57%, according to FBI data.
To help solve more cases and keep up with the relentless pace of violence, the department recently moved 12 officers to homicide for a total of 56 detectives. Those new investigators are expected to start handling cases in the next two to three months after completing training, police spokesman Matt Jablow said.
A recent staffing study by an outside consultant noted that with even 50 detectives, investigators are overburdened because they investigated 1,003 non-homicide death cases in 2018, including unattended deaths and overdoses. The plan recommended training district detectives to investigate those non-homicide deaths, with the goal of reducing the amount of new cases assigned to each homicide detective to six per year.
More detectives alone cannot fix the city’s violence, Harrison said, adding the root causes that encourage criminals to re-offend must be addressed.
Of the 86 murder suspects identified this year, 70 have prior criminal records, according to a department homicide analysis released Dec. 24. Of those suspects, 52 had been previously arrested for drugs, 45 for violent offenses, 38 for gun crimes, and 23 were on probation. Police said 11 of the homicide suspects were previously suspected in other homicides.
The majority were adult men, but police said seven juveniles were arrested for homicides.
The vast majority of victims — 276 — also have criminal histories. Of those, nearly 40% were previously arrested for violent crimes and about 30% were on parole and probation when they were killed. More than 50 victims were injured in previous shootings.
Black men make up the majority of victims. More than 100 were under 24-years-old, 21 were juveniles, while 96 were 35 and older.
The Baltimore Police department has a central role in the crime fight, but to address the root causes of violence that have plagued our city for decades, we need help from people from many professions and many different walks of life.— Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison
“The Baltimore Police department has a central role in the crime fight, but to address the root causes of violence that have plagued our city for decades, we need help from people from many professions and many different walks of life,” Harrison said.
Sunny Schnitzer, the Deputy Chief of Staff of the Mayor’s Office of Public Safety, said at the conference that the office is working with other agencies and programs to help those who might be at-risk of violence choose a different path.
Schnitzer highlighted some recent anti-violence initiatives, including expanding the number of sites for the anti-violence program Safe Streets, which uses reformed criminals to intervene in disputes before violence breaks out. The city now has nine locations.
She said the Cherry Hill location this year celebrated 365 straight days with no firearms homicides, and the program overall has mediated nearly 2,000 conflicts. She praised the new Roca program that aims to steer young adults away from violence through intensive outreach to get the most troubled young men into the program.
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So far, Roca has made 3,200 contacts with young people, and provided transitional employment for nearly 50 young men, Schnitzer said.
The city and the Department of Juvenile Services are also building a “strategic partnership to better align city, state and community resources for justice involved youth,” she said.
The city recently hired a crime analyst to focus on working with sheriffs and police to apprehend those with open criminal warrants, she said.
Beginning in 2020, police, prosecutors and city officials will meet weekly to review non-fatal shootings and armed robbery cases to bring only “highest quality cases moving forward," Schnitzer said. The city is also working to create a “non-fatal shooting response protocol” to provide resources to those affected in order to prevent retaliation in areas of the city with the highest rates of violence.
Harrison said he expects the group effort to paid dividends.
“This approach, coupled with accountability of [police department] leadership and effective constitutional enforcement that results in real consequences that takes offenders off the streets so that they cannot re-offend," Harrison said. "When we do all of that we will finally be able to change the culture of violence that has held the city back for far too long.”
Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton contributed to this article.