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Shootings in Northwest disrupt quiet

Last year, the residents of Northwest Baltimore's most violent neighborhoods saw homicides plummet to remarkable lows. Nineteen people were killed, fewer than in any other city police district save two, and far fewer than the 35 slain in 2000 and the 40 who died in 2004.

Police credited more aggressive patrols and better intelligence about drugs and gangs. Community leaders said that for the first time people weren't afraid to call the police and were taking an active role in improving their lives.

"It's an old community with a new spirit," said Patricia Rideout-Howard, who heads the Northwest District's Police Community Relations Council.

But this past weekend, headlines heralding old concerns stung Park Heights and Pimlico.

About 10 p.m. Friday, gunmen broke into a house on Spaulding Avenue just south of Pimlico Race Course, tied up a family in the basement and shot one man in the head while demanding money. The victim survived.

A half-hour later, near Reisterstown Road Plaza, gunmen in one car opened fire on the occupants of another car on Kenshaw Avenue, killing one and wounding another in the lower back. Sunday at about 11:10 a.m., police found a 40-year-old man fatally shot on Lewiston Avenue, his feet dangling from the driver's side door of a still-running car around the corner from an elementary school playground.

Northwestern District Deputy Police Maj. Sabrina V. Tapp-Harper said the shootings were unrelated. She said detectives have an arrest warrant for a suspect in the home invasion, which police said was a targeted robbery.

"What we hope to do is get a little bit more community involvement to help curb some of this violence, and of course we've increased patrols," Tapp-Harper said. She does not believe the weekend's shootings pose a significant setback for the district.

"We've been relentless about watching the crime and moving our patrols according to what the crime numbers dictate," the deputy major said.

Rideout-Howard confirmed that residents are not worried that the shootings are connected to a bigger and more troubling pattern.

On Tuesday, Rideout-Howard walked near the killing scene a few blocks from Northern Parkway and Park Heights Avenue. The shooting was steps from the parking lot and playground of Arlington Elementary-Middle School.

Three high school sophomores from Baltimore Freedom Academy accompanied a reporter to the area on Tuesday. One of the youths had just recently moved from the vicinity where the man had been killed; another had been friends with a young man gunned down on West Baltimore's Bloom Street in 2008. They complained that programs often target young children and adults but seem to miss older teens.

The youth who had just moved to Northeast Baltimore chatted with Rideout-Howard, a lifelong city resident and grandmother. She told him she'd help him with contacts to set up some programs but in the end it's up to him to organize and run it.

Rideout-Howard talked about the old days when discipline came not just from parents but from neighbors as well. She thinks some of the old values are slowly returning to Park Heights, and she surprised the students by telling them she doesn't allow her grandchildren to use their cell phones when they visit her home.

They stood on Narcissus Avenue for several minutes, the laughter of playing children from the school serving as background, Sunday morning's nearby crime scene now a memory, replaced by people cleaning cars and walking dogs.

Rideout-Howard was more focused on a public safety day she's organizing at the police training academy on Northern Parkway for May 23. She wants kids to see the police helicopter and meet officers, to learn how to identify witnesses and stay away from bad people.

She wants them to understand they have a stake in making their community better, to help turn around the image of Park Heights and Pimlico as war-torn neighborhoods unworthy of saving and incapable of being saved. She's worried that threatened police budget cuts might stop the progress, but she doesn't see the weekend shootings as indicative of more trouble ahead.

At least not yet.

Rideout-Howard turned to the kids from the Freedom Academy. "It's not so much how we are treated," she told them. "It's how we treat ourselves."

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