Baltimore will end 2008 with its fewest homicides in two decades, fighting through a late-year spike to mark one of its biggest year-to-year drops, reports the Baltimore Sun. The decline – a drop of almost 50 killings, from 282 to 234 as of midnight – continues a trend that began in late 2007 when Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III took command. It restores the city’s homicide total to levels not seen since the late 1980s, before an infusion of crack cocaine routinely drove the annual body count above 300.
The improvement has been tempered by several confounding factors. Violent crime overall is largely unchanged and Baltimore remains one of the most violent large cities in the country. Officials say too much emphasis is placed on the homicide tally, yet they hope that this year’s reductions can help convince an apathetic populace that change is possible. Relations among state and federal agencies – marked in the past by bickering and finger-pointing – are the strongest in recent memory, officials say. And the centerpiece of the city’s crime prevention strategy – targeting the most violent offenders and those with prior handgun violations – appears to be paying off. It could be argued that Baltimore is catching up to a nationwide trend. Last year, New York tallied its lowest number of homicides since 1963, while Chicago’s count was its lowest since 1965. Detroit, long linked with Baltimore at the top of most lists ranking urban violence, this year is set to record its lowest total in 40 years. Among large cities, Baltimore’s rate of 36 homicides per 100,000 residents is higher than Washington (31), Philadelphia (22), Chicago (18), Boston (10) and New York (six). Detroit’s rate fell to 37.