Acting Police Commissioner Leonard D. Hamm shook up his top command staff yesterday, as five more people were killed in a rash of violence that has claimed 26 victims in the first 20 days of the year.
"It's been a bad day, a bad month so far," said Mayor Martin O'Malley. "We hope to finish it stronger than it's begun. We're resolved and we're resolute, and we're moving forward and we're doing everything we possibly can."
In an attempt to combat the increased number of homicides and shootings in particular neighborhoods, the city police force created this week three new target areas in parts of East, West and Northwest Baltimore.
O'Malley said yesterday's management shake-up is further intended to reduce violent crime, and it came on one of the city's deadliest days in recent years. By late yesterday, two men and three women had been killed in four incidents across the city: the 800 block of N. Bradford St., the 2100 block of E. Fayette St., the 2100 block of Aiken St., and the 5700 block of Chinquapin Parkway.
Police officials said the killings appear to be unrelated.
"Every night, every weekend this year, it's like Baghdad," said Lucille Gorham, a longtime activist in Middle East, which is near one of yesterday's homicides and an area about to be targeted by police.
The 26 killings this month follow a December that had 15.
"December was a great month," O'Malley said. "We need to have more months like December and fewer months like January."
During the peacefulness of last month, Hamm's new administration took credit. As homicides have spiked this month, police have said the wave of violence can also be viewed as in a positive light. Hamm said over the weekend that it's evidence his plan to squeeze drug dealers is working.
The acting commissioner said police tactics have cut into dealers' profits, forcing them to try to collect debts and sparking more shootings.
O'Malley, who has made crime the centerpiece of his tenure, declined yesterday to discuss those remarks.
"I don't have any comment on that," O'Malley said. "The solution is, we need to reclaim our public spaces and we need to send away to jail for a very long period of time those who shoot and kill people. That's what we're continuing to do."
Most of this year's victims match the characteristics of last year's, when nearly 90 percent of the homicide suspects and victims had criminal records, police said. Most of those records connect the killings to the city's drug industry, police have said.
To concentrate on neighborhoods where shootings and homicides occur most often, the target areas - or so-called minidistricts - were created this week by shifting resources.
The high-crime focal point in the Western District area is expected to include Midtown-Edmondson, Sandtown-Winchester and Harlem Park. The Eastern District area is expected to include Ellwood Park, McElderry Park, Milton-Montford, Middle East, Madison-Eastend, Patterson Park and Patterson Place. And the Northwestern District area is expected to include Central Park Heights, Parklane, Towanda-Grantley, Greenspring, Cylburn and Park Circle.
"The point is to give more attention to where we've seen a lot of violence recently," said Matt Jablow, a police spokesman.
Police union officials yesterday credited Acting Deputy Commissioner J. Charles "Carl" Gutberlet III, one of the officials moved yesterday, with creating the minidistricts.
Yesterday's shake-up continued a trend of younger officers climbing to the top of the command staff. Gutberlet, 49, was moved from the agency's No. 2 job to chief of staff, Hamm announced. Gutberlet is a 25-year agency veteran.
He will be replaced by Acting Chief Marcus Brown of the Internal Affairs Division. Brown, 40, is a 12-year agency veteran, a graduate of the University of Baltimore law school and a former Northwestern District commander.
"The commissioner just feels at this point that Marcus Brown is the perfect person for the job," Jablow said. "[Hamm] expects very big things from him."
Acting Chief Steven McMahon of the Patrol Division has been moved to lead the warrant apprehension task force, a position the 45-year-old previously held and enjoyed. He is a 24-year agency veteran. A replacement for McMahon was not announced.
"Chief Gutberlet and Chief McMahon played extremely important roles in the transition between administrations," Jablow said.
Gutberlet, McMahon and Brown could not be reached for comment yesterday. They are all serving in acting roles because Hamm has not been nominated by O'Malley or confirmed by the City Council as commissioner.
"This new alignment of commanders will make this a stronger police department and, as a result, help make Baltimore a safer city," Hamm said.
O'Malley said the moves were made by Hamm and approved by him.
"Commissioner Hamm makes decisions that he thinks will help to reduce violent crime as quickly as possible," O'Malley said. "I rely on his judgment in making those changes. We hope they will be changes for the better that will have good results."
The moves surprised other city and police officials.
"I'm shocked Carl's being removed like that," said local police union President Frederick V. Roussey. "I thought he was doing a great job."
Councilman Kenneth N. Harris Sr. expressed concern that the changes follow rapid turnover within the department, which has had five commissioners or acting commissioners in the past five years.
"The citizens of Baltimore are looking for stability within the police department," Harris said. "No police department can be successful in reducing crime unless there is stability in its leadership. When you lack stability in any organization, you deal with low morale."
By last night, police had released the identity of only one of yesterday's victims.
They responded about 6 a.m. to the 800 block of N. Bradford St. for the report of a shooting and found a man and woman, both shot in the head, inside a house, police said. Two men were seen fleeing the area.
The man appears to be in his 30s and the woman in her 50s, said Officer Troy Harris, a police spokesman.
About 7:40 a.m., police received a report of a shooting in the 2100 block of E. Fayette St. and found a woman lying outside, Harris said. The woman had been fatally shot in the head, he said.
About 11:20 a.m., police responded to the report of a sick person in the 2100 block of Aiken St. They found Willie Covington, 56, dead inside his house, shot in the back. He had possibly been there for a few days, Harris said.
About 1:40 p.m., officers were called to the 5700 block of Chinquapin Parkway, where they found a woman in the park with a fatal gunshot wound to the head, police said.
There were 23 homicides in all of January 2004.
December 2003 was the deadliest month under former Police Commissioner Kevin P. Clark, who was hired in February 2003 and fired in November 2004. Thirty people were killed that month.
"We're experiencing a tragic spike in violence," Jablow said yesterday, "and we're doing everything we possibly can to suppress it."
Sun staff writers Laura Vozzella, Lynn Anderson and Richard Irwin contributed to this article.