In first six months, Baltimore homicides at a low

Baltimore saw 97 homicides in the first six months of 2014, one of the lowest totals at the halfway point in the past 30 years. 

Killings are down more than 15 percent from the same time last year, when the city was dealing with a spate of more than 40 shootings in a two-week span, including 20 shot over a single weekend. The city ended last year with the first increase in non-fatal shootings in six years, and the highest murder count in four years.

Not so this year. As of the most recent update on June 21, Police Department statistics show most categories of crime down big. Non-fatal shootings were down 19 percent as of that date, robberies were down 17 percent, aggravated assaults were down 16 percent, and total violent crime was down 17 percent.

Since 1980, the lowest number of homicides seen at the end of June was 94, in 1983. Of course, the city's population was 770,000 that year - it is now about 620,000. On a per capita basis, the homicide rate through June sits at 15.6 per 100,000 people, higher than the 12.2 per 100,000 that it was in 1983. 

The number is on par with six-month totals seen from 2010 to 2012. The city saw 99 killings through six months in 2010, when the city went on to see 223 murders for the year. The city recorded 102 at the midpoint in 2011, when it totaled 197 for the year.

For comparison, the highest rate at the midpoint of the year was in 1996, when 168 had been killed and the city had a population of 688,000 people, for a rate of 24.4 per 100,000.

2014 started off ominously with 27 slayings in January, nearly a murder a day even amid snow and ice. But the numbers fell off a cliff - relatively speaking - in February, March and April, with 29 killings combined, including just seven in March. May saw a spike to 23 murders, and June began with 10 slayings in the first eight days before the pace slowed.

What accounts for the decline this year? The Police Department has announced it is rolling out a new patrol schedule that gives commanders more flexibility to deploy when and where officers are needed, but that schedule won't go into effect for a few more months. The city also has brought back the heralded Operation Ceasefire, though that only recently began in earnest. 

In the third week of January, police identified new violent crime zones that would receive heavier policing, and have in the past pointed to drug investigations in traditionally high-crime neighborhoods that "dismantled" crews. And of course, critics will say it's all been an aberration. Time will tell.

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