Baltimore reached 300 homicides for the fourth straight year after a 30-year-old man was fatally shot in the face and upper body late Wednesday night.
The man was killed in Sandtown-Winchester just before midnight, following three nonfatal shootings in the city.
Though the city has again reached the 300 mark, homicides are down 10 percent from last year and other crime categories are trending down as well, interim police Commissioner Gary Tuggle said in an interview this week with The Baltimore Sun.
“It’s a number that I pay close attention to, but I also pay close attention to homicide No. 1, homicide No. 100, homicide 200,” Tuggle said. “At the end of the day, they all deserve an equal amount of urgency.”
In addition to homicides, nonfatal shootings are down 5 percent, robberies are down 14 percent and burglaries are down a third.
Mayor Catherine Pugh highlighted those figures but said the drop in crime wasn’t fast enough. Pugh said she’s exploring how the success of the Violence Reduction Initiative — eight zones targeted for extra attention by police and other city agencies alike — can be replicated across the city. Homicides fell by 23 percent and nonfatal shootings by 33 percent in the zones compared with last year, according to a report the mayor’s office released in November.
“The reality is that it should be across the entire city,” Pugh said. “What does that look like, what does that cost?”
Pugh said she’s also started to have discussions with Fort Worth Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald, her nominee to become police commissioner, about what more the police can do if he is confirmed by the City Council in January.
For now, Tuggle remains in charge. He has not only had to combat crime during his tenure, but also lead the department at a turbulent time, marked by leadership turnover, the federal racketeering convictions of eight officers with the Gun Trace Task Force and the implementation of a federal consent decree.
Tuggle is the Police Department’s third commissioner this year, after Kevin Davis was fired in January, and his replacement, Darryl De Sousa, resigned in May after being charged with failing to file his federal taxes.
Tuggle credited the city’s recent declines in crime to the violence reduction initiative, which brings police and other critical city agency heads together daily to discuss the city’s most troubled neighborhoods. Addressing other needs, such as transportation, health or employment in crime-ridden neighborhoods, has helped reduce crime, Tuggle said.
“I think it is progress. Obviously, it is incremental progress,” he said.
Last year, Baltimore’s 300th homicide was committed Nov. 2, and the year ended with 342, a per capita record.
In 2016, the city experienced 318 homicides. The previous year, Baltimore broke 300 homicides for the first time since 1999, ending 2015 with 342 homicides.
Breaking 300 homicides was a common occurrence in the 1990s, the city’s deadliest decade by body count. Still, the homicide rate wasn't what it is now, because there were about 100,000 more residents in the city then.
Pugh said she receives alerts about killings and shootings on her phone at all hours of the day.
“It’s painful,” she said. “I’ve been to the homicide scenes, I’ve been in conversations with the families, I’ve been at the emergency room, I’ve held hands with family members, I’ve cried with them.”
The official homicide count can change. Police are sometimes delayed in determining a death as a homicide, and sometimes deaths initially identified as homicides are reclassified. For example, the death of a man who collapsed after a fight at a McDonald’s on North Avenue on Wednesday has not been ruled a homicide, pending autopsy results. Another death this year initially reported as a homicide on North Howard Street has since been determined to be a self-defense case.
To combat crime, Tuggle said the department also has used officers more efficiently, reassigning more of them from other duties — including administrative positions — to patrol.
“We get them back to the street,” he said.
The department decided at the end of September, after 17 people were killed in a week, to bolster the patrol ranks.
The department this year also created a new specialized unit, the Anti-Crime Section, a group of plainclothes officers tasked with addressing known violent groups working in Baltimore. Plainclothes units were disbanded last year by then-commissioner Davis after the federal indictments of the Gun Trace Task Force officers.
When asked about the use of specialized units in the crime fight, Tuggle said “every officer’s responsibility is to get guns off the street.”
The Anti-Crime Section consists of two sergeants and 12 officers assigned to each half of the city.
Tuggle said crime reduction in Baltimore will take time and persistence.
“It’s not like you can wave a magic wand and suddenly crime is reduced. It takes a collective effort of a number of things, it’s multidimensional so you need multiple agencies and organizations” without silos, he said. “Crime in Baltimore didn’t happen overnight, and it’s not going to be fixed overnight.”
The city’s 300th homicide victim was shot around 11:30 p.m. Wednesday in the 1800 block of Baker St. Officers located the man and transported him to an area hospital where he was pronounced dead.
Police have not released his name.
Three other men were injured in shootings in the city overnight.
A 29-year-old man was shot in the buttocks, back and leg around 9:25 p.m. in the 3700 block of Crestfield Court in Northwest Baltimore.
Police said Thursday morning that he was taken to a hospital where his condition is unknown.
Less than half an hour later, officers were called to a hospital in Northeast Baltimore where a 27-year-old man was being treated for a gunshot wound to the foot.
Police said the victim was in the 5800 block of Belair Road where he was approached by an unidentified man armed with a handgun, attempting to rob the victim.
The victim attempted to flee when he told police he was shot.
Just after midnight Thursday, police said a 21-year-old was shot in the stomach in Belair-Edison.
Police said the victim was shot in the 3000 block of Mayfield, and was taken to a local hospital.
Anyone with information on the homicide is asked to call detectives at 410-396-2100 or Metro Crime Stoppers at 1-866-7lockup.
Those with information on the non-fatal shootings are asked to call Citywide Shooting detectives at 410-396-2221 or Metro Crime Stoppers.