Of the 343 people killed in Baltimore in 2017, 88 percent were killed with a firearm, including 295 with a handgun and six with a shotgun or rifle, according to Baltimore Police data released Wednesday
About 86 percent of the victims and 85 percent of the 118 suspects identified by police had prior criminal records. And about 46 percent of victims and 44 percent of suspects had previously been arrested for gun crimes, the data show.
Of the guns used, the “overwhelming majority of them are going to be illegally possessed,” said T.J. Smith, a police spokesman.
Smith said the numbers, from the department’s annual homicide analysis, support what the department has been saying: that “the weapon of choice for bad guys in Baltimore is the handgun,” that “repeat violent offenders” are routinely behind the violence, and that often, “today’s victim is yesterday’s suspect, and today’s suspect can be tomorrow's victim.”
The data are “indicative of the problem that we know we have, which is people with guns using them on each other,” he said.
Smith’s own brother, Dionay Smith, 24, was fatally shot in his home in July in an incident in which Smith said someone his brother knew “took advantage of him.”
Smith noted that not all homicide victims are “involved in illicit behavior” prior to their deaths. He pointed to the killing in July of 97-year-old Waddell Tate in his longtime East Baltimore home and in December of 19-year-old Morgan State University sophomore Jonathan Tobash in a robbery as examples of good people being caught up in the violence through no fault of their own.
There were many similar cases. Robbery was indicated as the motive in at least 33 of the killings in 2017.
But often last year, homicides occurred as a direct result of the violent drug trade and the easy accessibility of firearms. They involved rival drug crews and gang members in turf disputes or acting in retaliation for past acts of violence, police and police data suggest.
The average homicide victim in Baltimore in 2017 had 11 previous arrests on his record. About 73 percent had drug arrests, and nearly 50 percent had been arrested for a violent crime. About 30 percent were on parole or probation at the time they were killed, and more than 6 percent were on parole or probation for a gun crime.
Twenty percent of the victims were known members of a gang or drug crew, according to the data.
The average homicide suspect, meanwhile, had 9 previous arrests on his record. About 70 percent had drug arrests, and nearly half had been arrested for a violent crime. Nearly 36 percent were on parole or probation, and 6 percent were on parole or probation for a gun crime, the data show.
Eighteen percent of the suspects were known members of a gang or drug crew, according to the data.
Police did not know the motive behind nearly half of the killings, but at least 20 were related to retaliation, according to the data.
Many of the data trends identified in 2017 mirror those seen in 2016.
More than 90 percent of homicide victims were black, more than 90 percent were male, and nearly 65 percent were between the ages of 18 and 34. More than 86 percent were killed outdoors. Thirteen were children.
About 45 percent of the victims — 155 people — were shot in the head. Baltimore is known for the deadliness of its shootings, despite some of the best emergency medical care in the world.
The police department did increase its homicide clearance rate in 2017 to 51.3 percent, up from 38.7 percent in 2016 and 30 percent in 2015. That included cases from previous years cleared in 2017, and cases that police closed by exception – such as cases where police belief the person responsible has died.
Smith said city and police officials will be back in Annapolis this coming legislative session to again urge lawmakers to increase penalties for those who illegally possess firearms in Baltimore.
“We have to do more to hold those people accountable,” Smith said, “so they can’t harm others and they can’t get harmed themselves.”