Fewer homicides, but why? Good news: Baltimore is on pace to record the fewest murders in the city since 1989.


SEVEN MORE MURDERS in seven days have put a damper on the celebration of Baltimore's much-reduced homicide rate. Adding to public discomfort are indications that two victims last week -- a pregnant woman who moments before may have witnessed a murder and a passenger on an MTA bus rocked by a gunfight -- may have been innocent bystanders.

Still, the numbers show Baltimore is somewhat safer than a year ago. As of yesterday, the city had experienced 215 homicides in 1997, compared with 247 murders at the same time last year. It's still possible that for the first time since 1989, Baltimore may finish a year with fewer than 300 homicides.

Nonfatal shootings are also down. But Dr. Thomas Scalea, chief of the Maryland Shock Trauma Center, says that facility has not experienced any significant decrease in patients. Police theorized last year that the use of higher-powered guns may have increased. Perhaps this keeps the patient volume high.

No one really knows why shootings and homicides have decreased. A good deal of the credit goes to the Police Department, which has tailored its street tactics to arrest drug dealers who carry guns.

But crime experts also note a national decline in both the market for crack cocaine and the turf battles over who gets to sell the drug where. Unfortunately, they say heroin sales are up. But since heroin is a more expensive drug, dealers don't have to shoot it out for control of a corner in order to maintain their profits.

This is no time to become complacent. The city needs to keep up the good police work. And, especially, officials need to keep involving the public. It's citizens' intolerance of lawbreakers and cooperation with law enforcement that will make the biggest difference.

Pub Date: 9/16/97

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