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300th homicide recorded in city Deadly statistic grows with shooting yesterday; Officials downplay number


The best efforts of the Baltimore Police Department to keep the city's homicide rate from topping 300 for the ninth year in a row failed yesterday morning with the fatal shooting of a teen-age male in the 1900 block of W. Lanvale St.

Police identified the victim as Donte Brooks, 16, of the 600 block of N. Edgewood St. No arrest had been made.

Homicide Detective Gary Hoover said Brooks was an apparent robbery victim who was shot twice about 2: 30 a.m. and died at 9: 30 a.m. at Maryland Shock Trauma Center.

A second unidentified body was found in wooded grounds adjacent to a city recreation center in the 4000 block of Clifton Ave. near Gwynns Falls Park in West Baltimore about 2 a.m. Monday, police said. Police said the body's race, sex and age could not be determined because it was decomposed. The body is undergoing an autopsy, but police have labeled the death as suspicious.

In recent days, the Police Department has dispatched an extra 60 to 100 officers each night in an attempt cut the overall count.

Yesterday, officials downplayed the 300 figure as a random benchmark that does not reflect gains made in reducing overall crime.

"Even with our exaggerated deployment, as the month unfolded you can see how the trend is going there's just some inevitability to it," said police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier. "The benchmark I use most is 353 [killings] from the year before I got here. We're trying to drive that number down just like we're trying to drive down the violent crime rate."

Added Agent Robert W. Weinhold Jr., a department spokesman: "There's a bigger picture than 300 homicides. The overwhelming majority of violent crime in Baltimore is narcotic and addiction driven, but the department will continue to strive to reduce crime and the fear of crime."

Weinhold reported that violent crime was down 30 percent overall since 1995, with a 27 percent drop over the same period in property crimes and overall crime down by 28 percent.

But Baltimore's homicide rate -- the fourth highest in the nation with 43 deaths per 100,000 residents as killings are decreasing in other cities -- was one statistic police were especially keen to curb with their "enhanced holiday deployment."

"Obviously, it's about bringing the statistics down," said Frazier last week, noting that he cannot put this many officers on the street every night, but he's willing to do it for one month.

Said one lieutenant to his troops last week: "We do not want another another homicide in Baltimore City."

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke went on record saying that keeping the murder rate down was a major priority, invoking the 300 number as a symbolic threshold that he did not want to cross again.

After learning of yesterday's deaths, he said: "It's my hope that police and community efforts together will begin to reduce the homicide numbers in the way in which they have reduced other violent crime. The real tragedy continues to be the fact that in only two years out of the last 27 have our homicide numbers been below 200. If there was an easy answer to this problem, we certainly would have implemented it by now."

To get the numbers down, Frazier has been flooding the streets with the extra personnel. But what Schmoke and his police force want and what certain criminal segments of Baltimore's well-armed citizenry want seem to be different things.

The last time Baltimore had fewer than 300 killings was 1989. There were 353 in 1993; 321 in 1994; 325 in 1995; 331 in 1996 and 310 last year.

Department commanders stress that crime is decreasing faster than that of New York, with which Baltimore is often compared. But the city's homicide rate continues unabated, making it difficult for police to sell the city as a safer place to live.

The number 300 has been on everyone's mind this month, from beat cops to homicide detectives, all of them aware of Frazier's initiative, which brought many of the department's administrative functions to a halt as street patrols increased.

Even the public seems to have gotten involved in the quest to keep the numbers down.

Friday afternoon, while standing at a shooting scene in the 2700 block of W. North Ave., a carpenter named James Cook walked up to the crime scene and asked if the man had died. When told "no," Cook answered: "I heard that Frazier wants to keep it under 300."

The effort has become something of a private joke in the department by officers who feel it is nothing more than a last-ditch effort to reduce statistics instead of formulating a plan to make the city safer.

At the same shooting scene on Friday, a uniformed officer turned to a homicide detective and said: "Will he be 300?"

"If he dies," the detective answered.

The officer quipped: "You know that the mayor and commissioner are standing over him at the hospital praying, 'Don't die. Please don't die.' "

Pub Date: 12/22/98

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