A spate of violence in the city continued with a daylight shooting that left three people dead inside a West Baltimore apartment, as members of the City Council on Tuesday pressed police commanders to address a rise in killings and robberies.
The Fulton Avenue shootings took the life of two women and a man, the latest in an explosion of violence in West Baltimore, which has already seen 15 murders this year, half of its total for all of 2012. Ten of those killings have occurred in just a 12-block stretch southwest of Druid Hill Park and near Mondawmin Mall.
Police Commissioner Anthony Batts said he believed police had been successful at stamping out gang-related crime that troubled the city last fall, when the city surpassed its 2011 murder rate. He spoke at a City Hall hearing called earlier this year as the rate continued to rise, and pointed to crime statistics showing that total crime is down 8 percent so far in 2013.
"Though we're having a spike in homicides, our organization is working better, faster and smoother, and you can see it in the overall stats," Batts told council members.
Batts, who was named commissioner last fall after a career spent on the West Coast, said this year has seen extended periods of calm punctuated by bursts of violence.
The past week has offered a case in point. Before Sunday, one person was killed over an eight-day period, but nine people have been killed since then. On Tuesday, a man died at a hospital shortly after he was shot about 6:40 p.m. in the 300 block of Wilson Street, in the Madison Park neighborhood.
The commissioner said he believed that police were doing a better job at containing gang feuds and cutting off additional violence — preventing retaliatory shootings "two through 12" that can follow the first — while also reducing the number of guns in the city through arrests.
He said police were on track to make double the number of home visits this year to known violent offenders. He added that the agency has served 40 percent more felony warrants and made 34 percent more gun arrests.
"I'm extremely happy with what's happening in our other eight districts," aside from West Baltimore, Batts said.
Only four council members attended the hearing at City Hall. Councilman Brandon Scott, the vice chairman of the public safety committee, who called the hearing weeks ago to discuss violent crime, said he was "not happy with the numbers," mentioning not just the murder rate but the number of robberies, which is up 4 percent.
But he said he was satisfied with the department's plan to bolster resources in the Western District.
With overall statistics trending downward, Councilman Bill Cole said he was "confident with the overall strategy."
"For me, we're making progress, but that doesn't mean you can relax or rest on our successes," Cole said.
At the Fulton Avenue triple-shooting scene, a group of people stood on a nearby street corner, watching as police conferred. The residents said shootings have spiked dramatically in the past several months even though they've seen more police around.
"I ain't trying to get used to it, but it's a reality, too," said Gerald Winder, 50.
Another resident, who only wanted to give her first name — Shanae — due to concerns about safety, said residents feel trapped.
"We can't afford to live in other areas, and it's sad that we have to be subjected to this because we can't live other places," said Shanae, 31. "A bullet don't have no name. I'm always aware of my surroundings."
The shooting occurred at around 9:15 a.m., inside a red-painted brick house divided into apartments in the 2200 block of N. Fulton Ave., directly across the street from Westside Elementary School. Deputy Commissioner John Skinner, who visited the scene, said the shooting occurred in a second-floor apartment.
"All the shell casings and projectiles are within the house, and it doesn't appear at this point that there's forced entry," Skinner said.
Police said they could not speculate on a motive. Officials said they received information that the shooter may have suffered a leg injury and could be seeking treatment at an area hospital and had put out an alert to other law enforcement agencies.
Police on Tuesday night identified the victims as Brian Powell, 21; Kishawana Pinder, 20; and Tyreka Martin, 20.
School officials declined to discuss the triple shooting or other crimes that have occurred around Westside Elementary but said they've had an effect. "Violence in the community impacts the families whose children attend our schools. We work every day … to overcome this challenge," spokeswoman Edie House-Foster said in a statement.
Last fall, the city expanded the Health Department's Safe Streets program to Greater Mondawmin with $375,000 in federal grant money. The program, which exists in East Baltimore's McElderry Park and South Baltimore's Cherry Hill neighborhoods, involves hiring ex-cons and reformed gang members to mediate disputes without involving law enforcement. This week the city announced a fourth site, in Park Heights.
Franklin Lance, a pastor and president of the Greater Mondawmin Coordinating Council, said that his outreach workers have identified 60 people in the neighborhood at risk of being killed or being involved in a killing, and said their offices are typically full of young people.
"We don't know how bad it could be without having this team doing the work that they're doing," Lance said, referring to the uptick in violence. "I think we've actually thwarted what would be higher, worse numbers without that work."
Col. Garnell Green said that police would be pumping additional resources into the Western District, shifting plainclothes officers from the Zone Enforcement Section, formerly known as the Violent Crime Impact Section, which works in the city's highest-crime areas. And on Friday, he said, the department would have an entire graduating academy class start walking foot patrols at daytime and nighttime.
"The violence in the Western District is alarming to us," said Green, who leads the neighborhood patrol division. "It's really taken a pace that we want to get under control."
Police confirmed that they had recently moved all operations units in the city to work nights, but following several daytime shootings, Green said police would be moving some units back to days. Those units have more flexibility to initiate investigations because they aren't tasked primarily with responding to 911 calls.
But Batts said police wouldn't abandon other troubled areas in an all-out effort to save the Western District. "We don't chase crime," he said.