Baltimore's homicide rate -- which had slowed earlier in the year after the record-setting pace of 1992 and 1993 -- has soared with 46 murders in the past 41 days, mostly from the drug-blighted neighborhoods of the Eastern District.
For the year, city homicides continue to lag about 12 percent behind 1993, the city's most murderous year ever with 353 killings. That year marked Baltimore as the fifth-deadliest city in the country in terms of murders per capita.
Police report 270 murders this year as of last night, compared with 301 at this point in 1993.
But the recent surge has concerned police, particularly since the east side is once again the deadliest district -- even though city officials have pumped millions of dollars into police overtime, neighborhood cleanups and huge drug raids to combat the crime problem there.
"The drug problem over there is large, and it's going to take some time to bring under control," said Col. Ronald L. Daniel, the head of the city's criminal investigations bureau. "I just did a ride-along over there the other night. I saw a large number of people walking around high and in a drug-induced state."
He added, "We're still behind last year's pace. But we're coming up to the holiday season, a time of year when we traditionally see more shootings."
Police report 55 people were slain on the east side as of Oct. 1 -- the same number as were killed up to that date in 1993. Southwestern District was second-highest with 32.
Baltimore Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier targeted the Eastern District for a series of high-profile raids -- such as Operation Midway-Barclay and Operation Mid-East -- that were named after the neighborhoods being hit.
In each of the raids, conducted in the spring and summer, officers arrested dozens of midlevel drug dealers and gunmen. Dump trucks hauled off hundreds of tons of garbage, and extra officers were assigned to patrol each area.
Police officials said that while crime in the targeted neighborhoods has declined, the killings -- mostly drug-related -- have continued in adjacent areas.
"The Eastern District has its own unique problems. There are a lot of people out there, a lot of vacant houses," Colonel Daniel said. "The streets are extremely busy."
Baltimore began the year with an immediate dip in homicides, which police officials largely credited to the severe weather.
At one point this summer, the city was 46 murders behind the pace of last year, causing many to breathe a sigh of relief. But 63 people were killed in September and October, and nine have been slain in the first 10 days of November.
City officials have tried to remain optimistic.
"Homicides are still down. The drop is still welcomed. But it is still a lot of murders for a single year," said police spokesman Sam Ringgold. "The [drop] is nothing to celebrate, but it's encouraging."
Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, referring to statistics that showed a 3.4 percent decrease in violent crime so far this year, said, "I think the [police] department is doing a good job, they're on the right road. The community policing effort is working well. . . . Robbery is down, burglary is down."
Police report that this year's demographics of homicide victims are consistent with the trend of recent years: Those killed are typically black men in their teens or early 20s. Last year, 92 percent of those slain were black.
Handguns accounted for 73 percent of the deaths, statistics showed.