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National homicide spike in 2015, reflected in new FBI data, remains daily reality in Baltimore

The spike in homicides seen in cities across the country last year — verified Monday with fresh FBI data — remains a daily reality in Baltimore, where killings continue at a near-record pace.

Through Sept. 17, homicides in the city were down 7 percent compared to the same point in 2015, a year that would end with a per-capita record-high 344 killings. With more than three months left, there have already been more homicides this year than in all of 2014, with 230 killings through Monday compared to 211 in all of 2014.

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At least since July, there has been an average of more than a killing per day — mostly of young black men in bursts of gunfire. This weekend, 19 people were shot, four fatally.

There were 36 homicides in July and 30 so far this month, with several days left before October arrives. Before May 2015, Baltimore hadn't seen 30 homicides in a single month since the summer of 2007.

Crime surged following the April 2015 death of Freddie Gray from injuries suffered in police custody and the subsequent unrest and rioting. There were 30 or more homicides in five of the next eight months.

The violence in Baltimore put it among a group of cities that saw particularly dramatic spikes in killings and drove the national 10.8 percent increase in homicides and non-negligent manslaughter that the FBI reported Monday as part of its Uniform Crime Reporting Program.

The program compiles data from police agencies across the country on murders, aggravated assaults and other crimes. The homicide totals do not include killings that agencies have deemed justifiable.

Violent crime overall rose by 3.9 percent in 2015, though the total was still lower than levels from five and 10 years ago, in 2011 and 2006, the FBI said.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch, speaking Monday at an event in Little Rock, Ark., said the new FBI data show that "we still have so much work to do." But she also noted that crime in many communities has remained stable or decreased.

"And it is important to remember that while crime did increase overall last year, 2015 still represented the third-lowest year for violent crime in the past two decades," she said.

In Baltimore, recent crime rates mark a sharp departure from the crime declines seen in recent years.

Last year marked the first time there were more than 300 homicides in the city since 1999. At the current pace of violence, Baltimore will hit the 300 mark again this year.

Non-fatal shootings in the city are up by about 2 percent this year, as of Sept. 17. Overall violent crime is up 5 percent, and robberies are up 12 percent.

The national clearance rate for muders and non-negligent manslaughter was 61.5 percent in 2015, according to the FBI data. The homicide clearance rate in Baltimore was about half that, and remains so this year. Baltimore's clearance rate for robberies is slightly higher than the national average of 29.3 percent.

T.J. Smith, the Baltimore Police Department's chief spokesman, said the continued high pace of violence in Baltimore is frustrating, but crime trends never reverse overnight.

"To think that the stroke of midnight on Dec. 31, 2015 into Jan. 1, 2016 was going to make a bad guy, a trigger puller, make different decisions? We can't expect that," he said. "We certainly aren't where we want to be and where we need to be, but not being where we were last year and not being on the incline from last year makes us fortunate in that respect."

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Smith said that, looking at FBI data, Baltimore "would have been a much bigger outlier" if it had been alone in seeing violent crime increase in the last year.

"It's a national trend that police chiefs and departments across the country are grappling with," he said. "Our goal is to continue to impact the violent crime and impact those trigger pullers."

Robert Smith, director of Harvard Law School's Fair Punishment Project — which advocates for a "fair and accountable" justice system — said the FBI data released Monday show that, overall, 2015 was "one of the safest years in the last half-century."

Still, certain cities are seeing increased crime, he said.

"What you see in places like Baltimore and Chicago are these concentrated areas of gun violence, and these are places that have not seen the sort of decreases that the rest of the city, state or region has seen. These are places where gun violence remains a problem," he said. "That's something to take seriously."

Evidence shows that preventative measures and investment in violent communities works to stem crime more so than increased policing, Smith said, and therefore should be the focus of public policymakers.

"We cannot arrest and jail our way out of the gun violence problem," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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