It was the last day of 1990. The killings in Baltimore had hit 305 and the mayor was talking tough.
"We are going to lower the number of murders next year," Kurt L. Schmoke insisted. "We just can't repeat 1990."
We didn't, but we came close. Baltimore closed out 1991 with 304 homicides, one fewer than the city recorded in 1990. At least 12 had been children under 9 years old.
Yesterday, Mr. Schmoke complained that the city is "fighting a national trend," but said he is hopeful that "community-oriented policing will help combat crime."
However, he warned that "no one should assume that there is a magic wand solution to this complex problem."
The new year was just five hours old when homicide detectives were rushing to an apartment in the 2400 block of Loyola Southway to investigate the first killing of 1992. There they found 30-year-old Theresa Rozzell shot at least three times in what investigators suspect to be a drug-related slaying.
Police believe Ms. Rozzell must have let her assailant into the apartment because there were no signs of forced entry.
"No suspects, no reason," Detective William Cole said.
The final homicide victim of 1991, a man found shot to death
Tuesday afternoon in the 800 block of North Gilmor Street, remained unidentified yesterday.
Although the number of slayings in 1991 declined by one, the homicide rate actually increased. In 1991, Baltimore's rate -- the number of homicides per 100,000 people -- was 41.3, compared with 40.5 in 1990.
Although there was one less slaying, the increase in the rate reflects the city's dwindling population in the last decade. The homicide rate for 1990 was calculated on a city population figure of 752,800, an estimate of residents made in 1986 and based on 1980 census data.
The 1991 rate is based on a population of 736,014, which reflects the 1990 census figures.
Since Mayor Schmoke's pronouncement on the eve of 1991, the Police Department has increased the number of men and women investigating the city's homicides; five detectives and two sergeants from patrol and other investigative units have been added to the 38-member squad.
Police Commissioner Edward V. Woods has targeted narcotics activity, which officials believe accounts for 45 percent of the slayings, said Agent Arlene Jenkins, a police spokeswoman. In addition, she said, Commissioner Woods last year established a "Stop the Tears" campaign in which he asked citizens to report illegal weapons.
At the close of 1990, Baltimore recorded more homicides than any year since 1972, when 330 persons were killed in Baltimore. For more than a decade after that, improvements in Baltimore's emergency medical services brought the number of killings down, reaching a low of 171 in 1977.
While the numbers have been steadily increasing for the past three years, homicide detectives say it might have been even higher except for the emergency medical services.
"The only thing we can do is thank God for our medical personnel in Baltimore City, our outstanding medical personnel," said Sgt. Jay Landsman, a veteran homicide detective.
In this majority-black city, young black men have dominated the homicide roster in recent years, and 1991 was no exception.
As of Nov. 30, when The Sun put the year-to-date killings at 269, 62.8 percent of homicide victims -- or 169 -- were black men between the ages of 20-39. When blacks between the ages of 10 and 20 were included, the percentage of victims who were black and male increased to 75 percent.
All of the slain children were black. Among them was 6-year-old Tiffany Smith, who was killed late one summer evening when she was visiting a young friend overnight in the Walbrook area of West Baltimore. She stepped into the path of a shootout between two men. And there was Renae Hicks, an 11-month-old baby allegedly beaten to death last month by her mother and her mother's boyfriend.
In the final two months of 1991, devastating budget cuts hit Baltimore. Although the Police Department was spared layoffs or furloughs, other areas of the criminal justice system suffered. City prosecutors had to take six furlough days, which in turn meant that the business of bringing criminals to trial didn't get done for at least a week.
With the city anticipating yet another loss of state dollars -- this time perhaps $13.3 million -- the prospects for more police or prosecutors in the new year are dim.
"We need more dollars for chemists, analysts, detectives and attorneys," said Baltimore State's Attorney Stuart O. Simms. "Dollars are something we don't have a lot of at the moment."