Baltimore recorded its 271st killing this week, equaling last year’s homicide toll and virtually assuring that this year will be the city’s deadliest since 1999. After sweeping into office with a promise to reduce violent crime, Mayor Martin O’Malley saw the homicide rate – the most visible indicator of violent crime – fall for three consecutive years. This year will be the city’s second consecutive annual increase. The mayor says the homicide rate has made it difficult for him to sell his message that violent crime in Baltimore is decreasing.
Criminologists agree that a mayor and his police commissioners cannot be held solely – or even largely – responsible for killings, but O’Malley permanently connected himself to the homicide number when he declared that he would reduce the body count to 175 a year by 2002. Though criminologists emphasize that homicides are not the best barometer of violent crime, they say statistics on killings are often the only verifiable number that does not allow for police discretion. Leonard D. Hamm is the acting police commissioner. If he’s confirmed, the homicide number is among his top challenges. Hamm recently announced a 9 percent drop in homicides for his first four weeks as commissioner compared with the four weeks preceding his appointment. “We’re beginning to turn the homicide number around,” said police spokesman Matt Jablow.