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Homicides in Baltimore County down more than 30% in 2020, but shootings spike

One year after Baltimore County’s deadliest year on record, when 49 people were killed, the number of homicides in 2020 fell to 33, even as the number of nonfatal shootings increased, according to police data.

While killings dropped by more than 32% between 2019 and 2020, nonfatal shootings were up 17.5% last year compared with the year before, rising from 57 to 67, according to police data. In 2018, there were 56 nonfatal shootings.

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Last year did see a spike in homicides in the White Marsh Police Precinct: Seven people were killed in the eastern county precinct, which runs from the east side of Belair Road to Route 40 and encompasses Perry Hall and Nottingham, said police spokeswoman Officer Jennifer Peach.

The White Marsh Precinct saw two homicides in 2019, two in 2018 and one 2017, according to county crime data.

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In western Baltimore County, six people were killed last year in the Franklin Precinct and another six were killed in the Essex Precinct, she said.

County Councilman David Marks, a Perry Hall Republican who represents the White Marsh community as well as Towson, suggested that the area’s proximity to Interstate 95, a major thoroughfare, could be a contributing factor.

“It captures a lot of traffic up and down the East Coast,” said Marks, noting the murder of a 31-year-old woman whose body was found in October in the 11400 block of Philadelphia Road, about a mile from the interstate.

Nearby, Anne Arundel County recorded 19 homicides in 2020, the same as in 2019, a spokesman said. Police in Howard County reported six murders in 2020, compared with eight in 2019.

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Baltimore City ended the year with 335 homicides, with more women and girls killed than in any previous year.

In a statement, Baltimore County Police Chief Melissa Hyatt said that law enforcement’s clearance rate for homicides and nonfatal shootings improved last year from 65.3% in 2019 — on par with the national rate — to 81.82%.

County police cleared more than 67% of nonfatal shootings last year, up from almost 65% in 2019, according to police.

Hyatt said partnerships with county civilians aided in boosting the clearance rate.

Hyatt also said the department will bolster its use of data and analytics “to adjust our resources,” and additional analyses will “form future crime fighting strategies so our agency can continue to innovate and further decrease violent crime.”

Baltimore County last year rolled out the police department’s Real Time Crime Center staffed by civilian crime analysts. The Crime Center is meant to focus on precincts that experience the most gun violence.

County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. said in a statement that he was “proud of the progress” county law enforcement made in the past year “amid unprecedented circumstances.”

“Even one homicide is one too many,” he said. “And so we will continue to innovate in the years ahead to ensure Baltimore County remains a safe place to live, work, and raise a family.”

The increase in shootings falls in line with the dramatic spike in gun violence across the country, although the increase in shootings led to more murders in many areas. National news outlets reported surges in murders in major cities such as New York and Indianapolis, as well as smaller jurisdictions like Lexington, Kentucky, and Lubbock, Texas, according to a New York Times report.

It’s unclear how large a role the coronavirus pandemic played in the decrease in murders compared to the previous year, Peach said.

Chris Herrmann, an assistant professor at the City University of New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said 2020 was “a perfect storm” propelling the increase in shootings and murders.

First, the pandemic caused record unemployment, he said; then add the mental stressors of living through a public health crisis; protests, some violent, ignited by the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, who were Black; and police forces weakened by coronavirus spread within departments, with officers acting less proactively out of fear of the disease and because of fractured relationships between police and communities.

Herrmann, a former crime analyst with the New York Police Department, said he expects violent crime to continue across the U.S.

“Until it starts to get really cold and keep people indoors, or until COVID gets really bad again and we start to see shutdowns, we expect to see this kind of higher rate of violence,” he said.

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