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Northeastern Baltimore experiencing homicide increase

More homicides have occurred in Northeast Baltimore than any other part of the city so far this year, a trend that has prompted police to step up patrols and community leaders to press for more resources to address the increase in violence.

A shooting death Saturday night brought the Northeast district total to eight out of the city's 25 homicides this year. That's as many as the entire city of Washington, D.C. .

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A man was found shot in the head at about 11 p.m. Saturday in the 5300 block of Frankford Ave. in the Frankford neighborhood. He was later pronounced dead at a hospital. As of Sunday night, police had not identified the man or a motive for the crime.

Earlier last month, a man brought a loaded gun and drugs into the Northeast District police station, allegedly on orders from gang leaders to test security there. Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts said the incident could have become a "terrible situation" had officers not been able to physically disarm the man.

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The district, which covers 17 square miles stretching roughly to the Baltimore County border east from the Alameda and north from Pulaski Highway and Erdman Avenue, has proved to be a challenging region for police not just this year, but over the past few years.

Police and other officials also say much of Northeast Baltimore's rising crime activity cannot be easily categorized or solved because the motives of the area's murders have been varied and include domestic and neighborly disputes, as well as street violence.

"Everything that is great and everything that is bad about Baltimore is in Northeast Baltimore because of its sheer size," Baltimore City Councilman Brandon M. Scott, who holds regular anti-violence rallies and neighborhood crime walks in the district.

"It's easier to fight when you know one enemy like drugs. But it's not as easy when there are many enemies or issues. What we have to do here is help Northeast Baltimore and give them the resources that they've been denied," he said.

Police have redeployed more patrol officers to the area in the afternoon and evening, and community leaders hope a recent shift in police patrol strategies will help residents in historic neighborhoods such as Belair-Edison and Coldstream-Homestead-Montebello feel safer.

Baltimore police spokesman Detective Ruganzu Howard said that many of the district's murders this year show "no connectivity." Among them are a father-son suspected murder suicide in the Pulaski Industrial Area and a dispute over a parking space in the Ramblewood neighborhood that police say led one man to gun down his neighbor and another man.

"These incidents are isolated and not part of a major pattern, and we can't control those things," Howard said. "We put more folks on the street in uniform patrolling areas that have had some of these violent incidents and the intent is to deter any retaliatory violence and crime in general."

Northeast Baltimore, home to Morgan State University and Good Samaritan Hospital, is by far the city's most populous region, with more than 130,000 people. That's about 36,000 more than the Northern district, which is the city's second-largest region.

But population and geographic size alone is not enough to explain the homicide disparity in the Northeast compared with the other eight police districts, where about 490,000 people live.

Some residents believe a shift in violence is occurring with crime getting pushed north from the redeveloping areas around Johns Hopkins Hospital in East Baltimore.

While officials and community leaders said such a theory would be hard to prove, the numbers show a shift in violence. In 1991, East Baltimore saw 72 homicides while Northeast Baltimore recorded 17. By 2009, Northeast had 40 homicides while East Baltimore saw 38. And in 2013, the Northeastern district led the city in homicides and had the second most last year.

In a recent community bulletin, Baltimore police Maj. Richard J. Worley Jr., the commanding officer of the Northeast District, told residents and community leaders that "January has been a tough month for us the past three years and this year hasn't been any different."

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On Jan. 24, Baltimore police found 28-year-old Jason Ballard fatally shot in the head in the 4400 block of Franconia Drive. A day later, a 22-year-old man was killed just a half mile northeast.

That weekend was particularly violent with two other homicides taking place just over the city-county line. A woman was shot dead in nearby Parkville on Saturday and a man was found dead in a Rosedale motel on Sunday.

Worley also informed residents of a carjacking trend that police are watching along the western border of the district and said police have created a task force to concentrate on the crimes.

While the city's most recent crime statistics show that overall violent crime is down 12 percent in the district, the number of homicides and home robberies increased in January. And six arsons have been reported in the Northeastern District this year compared with one at the same time last year.

Overall, violent crime is down 10 percent in the city, with four fewer homicides in January compared with the same time last year. While most crime categories show declines, nonfatal shootings are up 18 percent, carjacking is up 75 percent and commercial robberies are up 135 percent citywide. Police say 61 businesses have been robbed this year.

Mike Hilliard, community services director of HARBEL, said he expects to see decreases in homicides as soon as police figure out how to best deploy its patrol officers. For the first time, Baltimore police this month began operating under a 10-hour-a-day schedule that gives commanders more flexibility to redeploy officers to blocks where crime is spiking.

"One of the things that's needed right now in the Police Department is patience because they have an entirely new patrol schedule and they're working out the kinks," he said.

Councilman Scott agreed, saying the new schedule for the first time should provide Northeast Baltimore with enough officers who can adequately cover the vast district. He also said residents across the city need to pay attention to the homicides that have occurred in Northeast Baltimore, as they highlight societal problems that need to be addressed citywide.

"What we have to get away from doing is oversimplifying murders and the when and why and how," Scott said. "There might be some trend but the trigger factor of why it happened is different from case to case. The reasons people are killing each other is starting to get outrageous."

Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton contributed to this report.

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