Baltimore nears 300 homicides for the fourth straight year. The violence has left broken families and damaged communities. Throughout Baltimore, streets are dotted with stray crime scene tape left from past shootings, or collections of deflated Mylar balloons and stuffed animals memorializing the dead. (Ulysses Muñoz / Baltimore Sun video)

A crime scene technician laid out evidence markers Friday morning where a 42-year-old man had been shot and killed in Northeast Baltimore the night before.

Two miles south, officers collected evidence from another shooting — the city’s 297th homicide. The victim, a former Public Enemy No. 1, had been acquitted in June of a firebombing.

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Meanwhile, a father in Southwest Baltimore tried to comprehend the loss of his daughter.

“We got to put a stop to this,” Terry Moore said.

The scenes are so common in a city that to many has become synonymous with violence. Baltimore is on the verge of reaching 300 homicides for the fourth straight year.

But that wasn’t always the norm.

Baltimore had fewer than 300 homicides a year from 2000 through 2014, when the number was 211. But in 2015, the year of Freddie Gray’s death and ensuing unrest, homicides surged to 342. In 2016, the total remained over 300. Last year, amid declining population, 342 killings represented the highest number of killings per capita.

On Saturday night in Northwest Baltimore, a 64-year-old man was fatally shot on Garrison Boulevard, according to police, making him the 298th homicide victim of 2018.

The violence has left broken families and damaged communities. Throughout Baltimore, streets are dotted with stray crime scene tape left from past shootings, or collections of deflated Mylar balloons and stuffed animals memorializing the dead.

“It is in some ways very discouraging. There are times where there are arrests made, we see things decrease and spike, but often times it seems like a steady stream,” said City Councilman John Bullock, who represents parts of West Baltimore.

The Western, Southwestern and Southern districts all saw increases in homicides this year, while other districts saw declines. One third of all the killings occurred in the Western and Southwestern.

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But the city has seen improvements in reducing the number of homicides. Overall, killings are down 10 percent compared to the same time last year. Non-fatal shootings are also down 5 percent.

Other cities have also reported declines in homicides. A New York Times report of data from 66 cities shows the national murder rate is down about 7 percent this year, compared with the same time last year. The declines come after a number of American cities saw spikes between 2014 and 2016.

The continued violence will be one of several challenges handed to the city’s next police commissioner. Mayor Catherine Pugh has chosen Fort Worth, Texas, Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald for the job. The City Council is scheduled to vote on his confirmation in January. In addition to crime, the department’s next leader must also help institute sweeping reforms mandated under a federal consent decree and address corruption problems revealed by the Gun Trace Task Force case.

Pugh expressed guarded optimism about the homicide numbers at a recent news conference discussing a new gun-buyback program.

“We are coming towards the end of the year. We are doing everything we can to stay under a certain number,” Pugh said. “We are trending down in homicides in the city, not as fast as we would want to, not as low as we would want to, but we are still trending down.”

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Pugh has sought to reduce through a range of programs that aim to address deeper, societal issues. This fall, outreach workers with the Roca program have begun intensive efforts to identity the city’s most troubled and potentially dangerous young men and connecting them with education, jobs and other resources. This spring, city officials expanded the number of “violence reduction zones,” which are some of the city’s most distressed neighborhoods, where police and other city services have been concentrated to address issues, from trash to job training.

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The mayor’s office also announced this week three new locations for the anti-violence Safe Streets program, which hires ex-cons to help mediate neighborhood disputes to reduce violence. Pugh has pushed for new efforts to boost police recruiting, and put more officers on the street, though a surge in applications has not yet resulted in more hires.

But the city’s struggles with crime remain complex. Many critics blame a dysfunctional criminal justice system.

Interim Police Commissioner Gary Tuggle criticized judges who he said do not hold repeat violent offenders accountable.

“As we have known for some time, a small number of people in Baltimore are responsible for a disproportionately large share of the violent crime,” Tuggle wrote in an op-ed published this week in The Baltimore Sun. “In many cases, my officers know exactly who those people are and arrest them. After they are convicted, we rely on judges to do their part to keep those violent criminals where they belong — in prison.” But Tuggle said, often “it just isn’t happening.”

Tuggle said half of this year’s homicide victims and 47 percent of murder suspects have previously been arrested for violent crimes.

The man killed in a shooting in the 1600 block of N. Bond St. on Friday morning was identified by his attorney as Antonio Wright. Wright, 27, was acquitted this summer of a firebombing that killed two teens and injured six others in 2017.

Woman, 25, fatally shot in car near social services office in South Baltimore Thursday

The shooting is near the Harborview Family Investment Center, a Maryland Department of Human Services social services office.

The shooting occurred just north of the Johns Hopkins Hospital campus. Police closed off the street, and detectives stood around what appeared to be a piece of clothing lying in the middle of the street Friday afternoon.

Some victims, however, lack any criminal history, and have been innocent bystanders, like 7-year-old Taylor Hayes, a second-grader who was shot while riding in the backseat of a car in Southwest Baltimore in July. Her 5-year-old half-sister, Amy, was injured in a shooting last month. There was also 83-year-old Dorothy Mae Neal, who police said was raped and physically assaulted, and later died; police charged a 14-year-old boy who lived on her street in her death. In South Baltimore, a neighborhood that rarely sees homicides, 25-year-old Timothy Moriconi was killed in what police have described as an attempted robbery.

On Thursday, police said Ebony Moore was fatally shot outside a social services office in South Baltimore. Police have not released any information about a motive or suspects in the case.

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Terry Moore, her father, said he believes his daughter was killed because of mistaken identity. He said she was riding with a friend to the office.

Moore said his daughter was a beautiful, caring mother of a 6-year-old girl and 5-year-old boy who won’t be with her this Christmas.

Another relative, Ciera High, said the family was preparing Moore’s funeral, and determining how to take care of her children.

“They are going to be growing up without a mom. It’s going to be hard,” she said.

“Ebony was nice. She was always smiling. She was a really happy person,” High said.

Moore’s death shows a lack of regard for human life, she said.

“Too many kids, too many females are getting killed. It’s too much,” she said. “People are numb to it.”

Moore was just one of two people shot Thursday.

There was also 42-year-old Daniel Battle, who was fatally shot outside his home in the 2800 block of Pelham Ave. No one answered at his home Friday.

Outside, two uniformed officers looked on as the crime scene technician continued to collect evidence. A homicide detective stopped a woman on the street, asking if she had witnessed or heard anything from the shooting Thursday night.

“I didn’t see anything,” she said, passing him.

The woman declined to give her name for safety reasons, but told a reporter that a local liquor store serves as an open-air drug market. “We have a drug-infested area. That’s the stuff that happens,” she said.

“It’s going to happen again.”

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