Halfway through 1993, Baltimore is on a pace to have a more murderous year than it did in 1992, when the number of killings in the city reached an all-time high.
As of late last night, 172 people had been murdered in Baltimore, compared with 151 at this time in 1992.
The latest victims were two people found slain shortly before 10 p.m. at a house in the 3400 block of Liberty Heights Ave., police said.
Last year's total of 335 murders set a city record and prompted some local officials to call for Police Commissioner Edward V. Woods' resignation.
Drugs continue to be at the forefront of the city's rising crime problem, although police aren't sure why the murder rate has taken such a dramatic leap in recent years, said Agent Doug Price, a city police spokesman.
One possible factor, homicide detectives say, is the influx of New York drug dealers, which has led to violent turf battles with local drug peddlers. It is also apparent that Baltimore's youth are falling prey to crime, both as victims and suspects.
Statistics for the month of June aren't yet available, but of the 140 homicides in the first five months of the year, more than one in three of the victims was under the age of 21, police reported. Minors were also identified as suspects in nearly four of every 10 murders in Baltimore as of June 1, police said.
The statistics for the first five months also show that:
* 127 of the 140 victims were black. Twelve were white and one was Hispanic.
* 116 of the victims were male, and 24 were female.
* Of the 76 people identified as suspects, 66 were black, and 10 were white. Eleven were females.
* Most of the victims (60) were in their 20s. Twenty-six were in their 30s, and 13 were in their 40s. Twelve others were 50 or older.
Most of the murders were the result of gunfire.
Last year's total of 335 murders broke the old record of 330, set in 1972, a year when there were nearly 170,000 more people living in the city.
The 1991 homicide total was 304. In 1990, 305 were murdered and 262 in 1989.
In January of this year, two councilmen -- the 3rd District's Martin J. O'Malley and the 4th District's Lawrence A. Bell -- publicly spoke out against Commissioner Woods in light of the rising homicide rate. They said Mr. Woods should resign if the city didn't see a decrease in its crime rate by the middle of the year.
"Nothing's changed in my mind since six months ago," Mr. O'Malley said. "We gave the Police Department more money, and still nothing's changed.
"The homicide rate is the most glaring statistical example that this crime problem is out of control, to say the least."
Mr. O'Malley said he believes the commissioner has been ineffective in running a beleaguered and overworked police force and should resign.
"I think the problems in the police department won't be changed so long as there's no change at the top," he said.
Mr. Bell stopped short of calling on the commissioner to resign, saying he had seen some positive changes in the department in the past six months.
"But there are still some problems with management that need to be dealt with," he said.
He accused Mr. Woods, and ultimately Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, of not coming up with creative solutions to the city's runaway violence.
"I don't get paid $90,000 a year to be the commissioner," Mr. Bell said. "All I know is that the homicide rate is out of hand, and I'm tired of it.
"Something has to be done. I live in a neighborhood [in the Mondawmin-Parkview area] where there are shootings right down the street from my house."
Mr. Bell complimented some initiatives, such as a plan to bring state police into the city and the hiring of private security guards at Baltimore's crime-ridden public housing projects.
But he said the mayor has been slow in coming up with strategies to battle crime.
Mr. Woods was "unavailable for comment" on the councilmen's criticisms yesterday, said Agent Price, the police spokesman.
Clinton R. Coleman, the mayor's press secretary, said Mr. Schmoke supports the police commissioner's efforts and believes he's been dealt unfair criticism.
"Both the mayor and the commissioner believe that the homicide rate is too high," Mr. Coleman said. "It's one of the most difficult of our crime problems to adequately address. But we believe we're moving in the right direction toward bringing that rate down."
Mr. Coleman pointed to the recent decision to hire more police officers and a plan to implement community-oriented policing in city neighborhoods.
"The mayor is supportive of the commissioner and his efforts to fight the homicide problem, and believes that all citizens of the city ought to support him and work together to address this problem, rather than simply standing back and criticizing," Mr. Coleman said.