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Baltimore City Police Commissioner Michael Harrison and Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young listen as City Council President Brandon Scott speaks about the release of the Commissioner’s Crime Plan on Thursday, July 18 at police headquarters.
Baltimore City Police Commissioner Michael Harrison and Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young listen as City Council President Brandon Scott speaks about the release of the Commissioner’s Crime Plan on Thursday, July 18 at police headquarters. (Kim Hairston / Baltimore Sun)

In public and private, city leaders last week repeatedly hinted at a trend not seen in Baltimore in any lasting sense in years: Crime, they said, appeared to be slowing.

“Recently we have seen real-time figures of violent crime trending downward,” Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young said at his Fall Cleanup news conference.

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“What we can see is that we’re moving in the right direction,” Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said when confronted with management critiques from the police union.

Both Harrison and Young have noted the data is limited in scope, but that didn’t stop them from promoting it as a sign of hope.

Data show their pronouncements aren’t entirely without merit. However, any short-term data analysis comes with caveats.

The pace of homicides in Baltimore last month fell below where it has been on an aggregate basis for years. But where it has been is at about a killing a day, and even with the dip of late, people in Baltimore are still being killed at an alarming rate.

This weekend in Baltimore saw horrible violence. At least fifteen people were shot Saturday alone, three of them fatally. One of the wounded victims was a 2-year-old boy. And police were searching for a gunman who fired near an officer after a triple shooting in Park Heights.

Eric Melancon, who is Harrison’s chief of staff, said before the weekend violence that officials are in no way claiming that crime is where it should be. “Every shooting, every homicide, every crime in the city is absolutely unacceptable,” he said.

But, he said, officials have been pleased with the fact that the degree to which crime this year was outpacing last year has shrunk as of late.

For instance, as of Aug. 10, there had been about 18% more homicides than the year prior. As of last week, there had been less than 10% more homicides than the previous year, he said.

“It’s very early, and we’re just trying to stay focused on our efforts, but it is a slowing of the violence, on the positive side for us," Melancon said. “It’s tough. We have to stay on it.”

Part of the reason the year-over-year comparison had improved is that homicides slowed to a better-than-average rate in the past month, while also being compared to a particularly devastating spate of violence at this time last year.

Comparing only the 28-day period of Sept. 8 to Oct. 5, homicides were down 50% this year compared to last, with 38 killings during that period last year and 19 this year. The skew between the two counts is indicative of this year’s tally being lower than average, and of last year’s tally being way above average. There were 31 homicides in the same 28-day time frame in 2017, 26 in 2016 and 29 in 2015.

Non-fatal shootings also saw a 7% decline during the 28-day period in question, with 50 this year compared with 54 last year.

As of Sunday, there had been 271 homicides this year, compared to 241 at the same time last year, meaning there has still been 12.4% more killings this year. There have also been more homicides this year than there were at this time in 2016, when there were 244, in 2015, when there were 262, and in 2014, when there were 174. There were more homicides at this point in 2017, with 277.

Year over year crime rates are also varying across the city. For example, through Oct. 5, homicides were down in South Baltimore by 51% compared to last year, from 35 to 17, while in Southeast Baltimore they were up 140%, from 10 to 24.

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Apart from killings and shootings, other crime has been trending down in Baltimore, and on the broader year-over-year basis.

Robberies were down 2%, as of Oct. 5, and burglaries were down 12%. Total property crime was down 5%. Overall violent crime was flat.

Melancon said the recent declines in crime have meant less reactive policing has been needed, and the department is trying to take advantage of that by conducting more proactive policing.

“For us it’s better visibility, it’s focused deployments and it’s making sure that we are following up on closing cases and staying ahead of the activity,” he said.

At a City Hall hearing on crime Thursday, City Council members listened to Harrison describe the recent decline, noted the limited time frame reflected, and said they hoped it will hold.

It will not if the sort of violence seen this weekend continues.

Baltimore Sun reporter Jessica Anderson contributed to this article.

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