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Baltimore police say arrests of murder suspects are up. Bad guys with guns need to know that. | COMMENTARY

In a graphic provided to the news media on July 6, Baltimore police reported 25 arrests in city homicide cases since mid-May.
In a graphic provided to the news media on July 6, Baltimore police reported 25 arrests in city homicide cases since mid-May. (Baltimore Police Department)

I might be wrong, but I think most people around here have the impression that Baltimore police — specifically, homicide detectives — have made little progress against the shootings and killings that started as a surge six years ago and left us flooded in chronic violence. There have been 2,169 homicides within the city limits since 2015, and this year’s pace of violence is worse than 2020′s, approaching an average of two shootings and one homicide a day.

We have not seen persistent violence on this scale since the 1990s. It’s disturbing and depressing — wasted lives, traumatized families and neighborhoods, a city’s psyche pounded week after week — and there seems to be a randomness or impudence to it now: More guys with guns using them impulsively.

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Five years ago, in this space, I wondered why, in a city of Baltimore’s size, street violence appeared to have no end. Shouldn’t Baltimore’s at-risk population — that is, adults who, by life circumstance or by choice, are at risk of becoming a shooter or a shooting victim — have been diminished or scared off by now? My conclusion was no, or not necessarily, because a lot of the violence is retaliatory; it spreads like a contagion, infecting new shooters and victims.

But back to my point about public perceptions of police.

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At any time over the last six years, anyone following the life and times of this city could have had any of these impressions: Police are taking a knee, suffering from inconsistent leadership, understaffed and overwhelmed, resentful of criticism or just indifferent.

Whatever the reason, the record on arrests that might reduce shootings and killings was far from stellar. The homicide clearance rate in 2019 was only about 32%.

In March, when police recorded 24 homicides in 26 days, I devoted two columns to the subject. This was based on a credible analysis by Thiru Vignarajah, the former prosecutor and mayoral candidate who connects the city’s continuing violence to the failure to arrest and convict killers. In his deep dive into data from 2017 through 2019, Vignarajah found 1,001 homicides, with police making arrests in only 248 of them, or about 24%.

But, using a different calculation, the BPD claims a higher and improving clearance rate — 40% in 2020, and 50% through the first half of this year. Still, because the pace of shootings and homicides remains high, the public perception is probably still that the department is not gaining ground.

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And yet, over the last several months, the BPD has reported, fairly regularly and more so than in previous years, arrests in murders and in non-fatal shootings. Crime reporters accustomed to a steady diet of shootings and homicides — reported with minimal facts by the public information office — have also been getting arrest reports, along with mug shots of suspects. This is not entirely new, of course, but the effort to let the media and public know about arrests in the most violent cases appears to be more robust of late. There’s certainly more emphasis on it.

Here’s a sampling of recent arrests:

July 6: Joel Lewis, 47, of East Baltimore, was charged with attempted first-degree murder for the shooting of a 48-year-old man 10 days earlier on East Fayette Street. “Detectives were able to retrieve video footage of the suspect and identified the suspect relatively quickly,” the arrest report notes.

July 2: Matthew Tenly, 34, of Baltimore, was charged with attempted first-degree murder for his alleged assault on a 26-year-old man on Boston Street in Canton early on May 17. The weapon was a baseball bat. The attack was captured on video by a street camera. “Detectives reviewed the video and received several tips as to Tenly’s identity, and a warrant was obtained,” the arrest report says.

July 1: Raymond Roman, 32, of Baltimore, was arrested on Liberty Heights Avenue for the April 27 shooting death of 43-year-old Kevin Adams. The arrest report says the shooting occurred “following a dispute” between the two men in the Rosemont neighborhood on the city’s west side.

June 24: Police arrested 30-year-old Tarence Jones of the 2500 block Greenmount Avenue in the daytime shooting death 11 days earlier of 28-year-old Desmond Williams of Owings Mills. “Homicide detectives reviewed video footage, interviewed possible witnesses and identified the suspect,” the arrest report says.

June 22: Jamal Kingsborough, 27, of East Baltimore, became the second man charged with the shooting death of 34-year-old Tony Hedgspeth in the 200 block of W. Lexington Street on May 21. Detectives earlier arrested 27-year-old Christian Saint Rose in connection with that murder.

May 20: Police arrested 28-year-old Garrick Powell in the murder of Dante Barksdale, the Safe Streets anti-violence leader who was gunned down outside Douglass Homes in East Baltimore on Jan. 17. In charging documents, detectives said Powell had been arrested with a gun linked to the Barksdale shooting; they said they further identified him through witnesses and cellphone location data.

There have been a lot more arrests. In fact, the BPD says detectives have taken 25 homicide suspects off the streets since May 17, and 10 of them are repeat violent offenders.

Some of these arrests have been reported in local news media, but far from all. It seems to me that ought to change. If Baltimore police are making more and better arrests, the public needs to know that — and, more importantly, bad guys with guns need to know that.

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