Baltimore surpasses the number of murders for all of last year, with more than four months to go. The dubious distinction comes as the mayor faces growing public criticism. Mike Hellgren reports.
A man found dead with a bullet wound Wednesday in a vacant rowhouse near the CVS pharmacy that burned during the city's April unrest brought Baltimore's homicide count this year to 211 — matching the total from all of last year.
"Oh, Lord Jesus, there is always something going on around here," Karen Hughes, 56, said as she walked past the vacant homes in the 1500 block of Traction St., where a crime-scene technician was cleaning up. "They really need to tear [the houses] down, because there are people who use drugs always going in and out."
Police did not release the victim's name, offer a motive for the killing or say whether they believe the man was shot in the home where his body was found. A police spokesman said all of the circumstances surrounding the incident remained under investigation.
Hughes, who has lived in the Penn North neighborhood of West Baltimore for three years, said she is tired of the crime and chaos.
During the riots in April, she said, she "stayed in the house the whole time" and now is "really trying to get out" of the area altogether.
"There is too much going on around here," she said.
City officials and police agreed, saying there is too much crime across the city — too many robberies, too many shootings, too many young lives cut short — and not enough community support to stem the tide of violence.
"We made so much progress in the city," said City Councilman Brandon Scott, vice chairman of the council's public safety committee. "To have all of that washed away and be back to the years we had utter chaos and utter disarray, it is something I never wanted to see again.
"If you remember what it was like in the 1990s, you should be waking up with it on your mind and have a feeling in your gut," he said. "I don't want to be having this same old conversation. It is not just a police thing, it's not just the citizens' responsibility — it's everyone's responsibility."
The homicide count puts the city on pace for a return to levels of the 1990s, the last time the city recorded more than 300 killings in a single year.
"It's too many mothers that are losing mainly sons," said Lt. T.J. Smith, the Police Department's chief spokesman. "We have an obligation to the community to work as hard as we can to drive down the crime."
Smith said officers are working hard on patrol. He cited the officers who heard gunshots in North Baltimore last week and responded quickly to what ended up being a triple homicide, and the recent handgun charge against a 24-year-old man who police say ran from officers and discarded a weapon.
The department announced arrests in the fatal shooting July 24 of 39-year-old Damon Ramsey in the 2300 block of Harford Road and in a nonfatal shooting July 25 in the 2300 block of Wilkens Ave.
Smith said more progress is expected, but recent crime-fighting initiatives — such as the "war room," where city officers and detectives work side-by-side with federal agents — will take time to show results.
"We all want instant gratification," he said. "It's unfortunate that some of these plans take time."
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said arrests are increasing in Baltimore, a positive move against the summer's "domino effect" of crime that shows the new partnership between city police and federal law enforcement officials is working.
"These are known entities who are battling it out in the streets like this is the wild, wild West," she said. She blamed much of the recent violence on retaliatory attacks.
"When you have one shooting or homicide and then you have the group that was impacted, they retaliate and then this group retaliates," she said. "That's what we're seeing going back and forth.
"We can trace it, we can trace the players, and those are the individuals that we're focused on. History tells us that the dominoes will continue to fall. We will continue to see the loss of life in our streets until we can extract these individuals off the street."
Rawlings-Blake said the city turned a corner about 31/2 weeks ago as drug arrests and gun seizures began to rise. She didn't provide numbers but called the arrests "positive indicators that officers are engaged on every level and that things are turning around."
Violence spiked after the death in April of Freddie Gray. The 25-year-old Baltimore man suffered a severe spinal cord injury in police custody.
On the day of his funeral, the city erupted in rioting, looting and arson — including the burning of the CVS at Pennsylvania and North avenues.
Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby charged six officers involved in Gray's arrest with charges that included misconduct in office and second-degree murder.
The union that represents rank-and-file officers said those charges made officers hesitant to do their jobs. Police made an average of 2,630 arrests per month between January and April, but arrests plummeted to 1,557 in May.
In June there were 2,095 arrests, and in July there were 2,498, city data show. Still, arrest numbers in 2015 remain well below those in past years — and homicide and robbery clearance rates are far below the average of recent years.
The average number of arrests per month this year is 2,381, compared to 3,281 last year and 3,517 in 2013, according to city data.
City officials have sought to renew alternative crime-fighting initiatives that have faltered in recent months.
They announced that the Safe Streets program would be expanded, even as the status of an East Baltimore unit remains in question after two employees were arrested and drugs and guns were found in the office.
Rawlings-Blake also removed the director of CitiStat, Mark H. Grimes, after the agency lost data analysis staff and failed to publish department reports.
On Wednesday, Maryland Division of Parole and Probation Director Judith Sachwald and Executive Deputy Director Joseph Clocker were knocking on the doors of recent parolees to inform them of a meeting next week under the city's troubled Ceasefire program.
At the meeting, officials plan to advise parolees of services to help keep them out of trouble.
They will be urged to "stay strong," Sachwald said, "saying 'No' to the things you need to say 'No' to, and 'Yes' to the things that help you stabilize your life."
The Wednesday morning homicide on Traction Street followed two killings in the city on Tuesday night. A 28-year-old man was shot and killed just before 9 p.m. in the 2200 block of Ashton St., police said.
Officers called to the 200 block of N. Conkling St. shortly before 8 p.m. found a 21-year-old man with multiple gunshot wounds, police said.
Police also reported a nonfatal shooting at 9:15 p.m. Tuesday in the 3500 block of Old York Road in North Baltimore — a 23-year old man was shot in the buttocks, they said — and a double shooting early Wednesday morning in the 200 block of Whitridge Ave. in which a 16-year-old boy was shot in the thigh and a 25-year-old man was shot in the hand.