Five men were shot to death in Baltimore in separate incidents yesterday and Friday, bringing to 18 the number of homicides just over two weeks into the New Year.
Last year, there were 23 homicides in the city for the entire month of January, but the city's acting police commissioner said the short-term surge of violence, all suspected to be drug-related, is evidence that the department's long-term crime-fighting plan is working.
"We are keeping with the same game plan ... putting pressure on drug dealers," Leonard D. Hamm said at an unusual weekend news conference yesterday afternoon.
Hamm said he is positioning his officers to stifle drug traffic and cut into dealers' profits. But he said the tactic has produced a violent side effect: Dealers are now aggressively trying to collect debts, and some have turned to killing.
He added that his efforts led to a decline in the homicide rate in December, one month after he took over from fired Commissioner Kevin P. Clark. Officials argue the strategy will have a lasting, positive effect.
"We are not distraught. We are not in despair," said Chief of Detectives Antonio Williams. "It's January. We have a long way to go."
Last year, there were 278 homicides in Baltimore, the highest number since 1999.
The most recent fatal shootings occurred early yesterday, the first about 1 a.m. in the northeast section of the city and the other nearly two hours later in South Baltimore.
The first three killings - the first occurring just after midnight Friday - took place within five miles of one another.
The names of all of the victims have been withheld, pending notification of their families. Police have released few details about the deaths, other than a statement that the slayings were drug-related but not connected to one another:
A man was shot about 12:30 a.m. Friday on the 300 block of E. 20 1/2 St.
A 20-year-old man died in a double shooting that occurred at 9:30 p.m. Friday on the 500 block of N. Curley St. Authorities would not disclose the condition and location of the second victim, who survived.
A 22-year-old man died in a shooting that occurred about 10:20 p.m. Friday in the 1600 block of Madison St.
A man was found dead after a shooting occurred about 1 a.m. yesterday on the property of Relax Inn, in the 5800 block of Reisterstown Road.
A 17-year-old was found fatally shot about 2:45 a.m. yesterday in the 2600 block of Huron Ave.
Police also disclosed Friday night that a man wounded in a West Baltimore shooting in December died Wednesday. Lamont R. Reid, 33, was shot while standing at the corner of Lorman and North Mount streets at 11 p.m. Dec. 18.
The deadliest single day of the new year came six days ago when three men were fatally shot and a fourth was wounded at a Remington group home for recovering addicts.
Police said the attack occurred when man showed up to collect on a $300 marijuana debt owed by one of the victims. After the debtor handed over a portion of the money, the man shot him and turned his gun on the others because they were witnesses, police said.
Police arrested and charged Derrick Taylor, 26, of Baltimore in the triple homicide, the city's deadliest act in nine months.
Hamm said that these incidents don't constitute random acts of violence. Rather, he said, the crimes are highly targeted, and "there is a measure of safety" for working people.
The city last recorded a similar concentration of new-year bloodshed in 2000, when police counted 14 homicides through the first 17 days of January.
Five years later, Mayor Martin O'Malley is on his third replacement for the city's top police officer. Last month, Hamm took credit for a 9 percent decline in the homicide rate during the first four weeks of his administration, compared with the four weeks preceding his hiring.
This time last year, the 18th homicide wasn't recorded until Jan. 26.
Hamm and his senior officers are prepared for the possibility that his strategy might cause a continuation in the homicide spike, said Matt Jablow, a Police Department spokesman.
"We hope each month we will have fewer homicides than the previous month," Jablow said. "We have a good plan."