Baltimore’s homicide surge was featured in a second national newspaper today, the New York Times. The Times says the problem has “posed an intriguing riddle for criminologists. Even as the murder rate has crept back up, officials say, the overall crime rate has steadily fallen. Can a city be safer, yet deadlier, at the same time?” Officials say yes: Turf wars have made the the city more violent for drug dealers, but it is freer from crime for the law-abiding majority than it has been in decades. “Baltimore is actually a very safe city if you are not involved in the drug trade,” Health Commissioner Peter Beilenson said.
Of the 38 homicide victims this year, 90 percent had criminal records and 68 percent had been arrested for violent crimes. The victims had been arrested an average of eight times each, typically for drug-related crimes. “Our victims have identical records as our suspects,” Marcus Brown, acting deputy police commissioner, said. His boss, Acting Police Commissioner Leonard Hamm, said, “As I ride down the street, I’d have to say the city is safer.” Times says that some criminologists maintain that precinct commanders may be downgrading serious crimes to lesser categories to make their districts look better. Officials vigorously deny that. Others dispute the idea that only drug dealers are in danger. Dr. Carnell Cooper, an attending trauma surgeon at the University of Maryland shock trauma center here, said, “We get patients in our hospital who are shot while they lay on their couches.”