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Baltimore County homicides setting pace for deadliest year on record

Baltimore County has seen a rise in homicides this year that county officials attribute to behavioral health-related incidents and killings resulting from domestic abuse, putting the county on track to surpass the number of killings in its deadliest year on record in 2019.

There have been 42 people killed in the county through Thursday. Baltimore County ended 2019 with 49 homicides, police say.

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The deadliest police precincts in 2021 have been Dundalk and Essex on the east side and the Wilkens and Woodlawn precincts to the west. As of Thursday, a dozen people had been killed in shootings in Dundalk and Essex and nine people were killed in the Wilkens and Woodlawn precincts.

Ten have been killed in the Pikesville and White Marsh precincts combined.

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Police said Baltimore County recorded 33 homicides in 2020, experiencing a downturn in killings even as FBI data showed that the country saw its largest year-over-year increase in homicides.

Sixty-four percent of homicides this year were either mental health-related or resulted from a domestic dispute, county police Chief Melissa Hyatt said.

Breaking it down further, 24% of those killed “had a behavioral health component to their death,” Hyatt said. And 40% began with an argument, Hyatt said.

“The data is very clear,” Hyatt said.

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Police have not seen the number of mental health and domestic violence-related killings “before in the same manner,” she said.

Homicides spiked early this year, between January and March, according to county crime statistics. Sixteen people were killed in February and March combined.

The year has been marked by two mass shootings: In March, Joshua Green, 27, killed his parents, Douglas and Olivia Green, in their Baldwin home before fatally shooting two more people, Alpha Smith and Silvesta Daye Jr., at a Royal Farms in Essex. Police said Green then killed himself in an apartment parking lot.

About a month later, Everton Brown, 56, set his Woodlawn home on fire and killed three of his neighbors before police fatally shot him. Everton suffered from delusional thinking, 911 call records show, and believed the government was conspiring against him.

“As we confront these losses, we recognize that we have experienced significant mental health-related violence this year — including two shocking mass shootings,” Democratic County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. said in a statement.

Preventing those types of incidents “isn’t just a police response,” Hyatt said.

The county this year launched a pilot project to expand its ability to respond to behavioral health-related calls for service; the county contracts with The Affiliated Santé Group to provide clinicians to staff police mobile crisis teams, pairing a mental health specialist with a plainclothes officer to handle mental health-related emergency calls. The expansion aims to add more clinicians to the program and redirect some 911 calls from police to behavioral health resources.

Donna Batkis, a Towson-based psychotherapist, said the pandemic exacerbated mental health-related incidents and cases of domestic abuse.

There are “many more cases in child abuse, domestic violence ... people getting upset with each other,” she said.

The pandemic took away external support systems, like family and community events, Batkis said, isolating people from one another as many were sequestered to their homes.

Those who were vulnerable with untreated mental illness before the pandemic and were without resources like therapy felt the stressors of the pandemic more acutely than the general public, she said.

Still, she added, there’s no indication that those with mental illness commit violent crime any more than the general public.

“These things happen all over the place,” Batkis said. “But I think having more resources in the area is critical.”

County spokesman Sean Naron said the county is evaluating how to use American Rescue Plan funding to make improvements in Essex, including more investment in public safety initiatives.

One strategy the county has used is public safety community walks, like a walk in Woodlawn on the heels of a fatal shooting at Security Square Mall in which the U.S. Marshals Service killed a homicide suspect who had shot and injured two Baltimore police officers.

“We had some very high-profile incidents that normally don’t happen,” said County Council Chair Julian Jones, whose district includes part of Woodlawn.

The Woodstock Democrat is “very proud,” though, of law enforcement’s clearance rate, he said.

Police have cleared 71% of opened cases this year, according to police spokeswoman Joy Stewart.

There have been 47 nonfatal shootings this year — including an incident this fall at an unsanctioned party at Towson University where three people, including a student, were shot.

Not included in the homicide figure are the two children whose bodies were discovered decomposing this summer in their aunt’s car during a traffic stop by a county police officer. The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner is investigating the cause and manner of their deaths, Stewart said.

Nearby, Howard County has seen 10 homicides, while 14 people have been killed in Anne Arundel County so far this year. In Baltimore City, 259 homicides have been reported.

In 2019, the county surpassed its previous record of killings — 43 in 1992, according to FBI data that has tracked violent crime since 1985.

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