Death on the streets

The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore's homicide rate last year surpassed all of the nation's largest cities with the exception of Detroit, according to FBI crime statistics released yesterday.

Violent crime as a whole in Baltimore was down almost 13 percent in 2006 compared with 2005 and is continuing to drop this year, bucking an increase of 1.3 percent nationally, statistics show.

Police said aggravated assaults and rape were down while robberies and homicides were up from 2005 to 2006. The downward trend of aggravated assaults continued through this year, but the number of rapes so far is about the same compared to 2006. Robberies so far are down compared with last year.

This year, the city has recorded 128 killings in the first 155 days, putting it on a pace for 300 slayings, a level not seen in Baltimore since 1999.

The number of shootings is up to 303 this year, compared with 224 shootings last year at the same time - a 35 percent jump, city police said.

Baltimore's homicide rate in 2006 was more than twice that of Chicago and six times higher than New York City's, which saw a small increase in slayings in 2006 from the previous year.

Detroit, which has a population of about 884,000, reported 417 homicides last year - making it America's deadliest large city with a homicide rate of 47 per 100,000 residents.

Baltimore, with about 637,000 people, had 276 killings last year, giving it a homicide rate of 43, according to data released by federal officials. (Baltimore officials had reported last year's homicide total as 275 but said state police, in reviewing data for submission to federal authorities, added a shooting that has been ruled justified.) Washington, with 169 slayings for 581,000 people, had a rate of 29.

Among cities with fewer than 100,000 people, Gary, Ind., with 48 killings for 99,000 people led the pack with the highest homicide rate.

The homicide rate dropped in two other big cities, Dallas and Los Angeles.

Henry H. Brownstein, a criminal justice researcher at the University of Chicago, cautioned against drawing any firm conclusions based on the past two years.

"This is the second year that the murder rate's rising" in Baltimore and nationally, Brownstein said. "It's starting to make people nervous. You really want to wait. It could be an aberration.

"After three years it's a trend," the analyst said. "It's harder to turn it around when it keeps happening. One year or two years, it could be a blip. But once it's three years, you have to look and say, 'What's going on in Baltimore? Are there more gangs? How has the drug market changed? Are there a lot more guns on the street?'"

Matt Jablow, a spokesman for the Baltimore Police Department, credited the city's decrease in overall violent crime to law enforcement efforts to target repeat offenders.

"We did a good job of targeting repeat violent offenders, getting people off the street that were causing problems in our communities," Jablow said. "That continues to be our strategy this year."

Jablow said that overall violent crime, as of the end of May, is down 13 percent compared with the same time last year. "But obviously we have some more work to do, because no one is pleased with the homicide and shooting numbers," he said.

According to Jablow, more than 80 percent of the city's homicide victims and close to 90 percent of its murder suspects have lengthy criminal records.

"Baltimore is becoming an increasingly safer city for law-abiding citizens but has become an increasingly dangerous city for those that live outside the law," Jablow said. "We see it over and over with our homicide victims and suspects: They're people who've been arrested, five, 10, 15 times. We have to get these people off the streets for longer periods of time."

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