Although crime in Baltimore City has been on the decline for the past three years, homicides are up 6 percent over last year, which deeply concerns Baltimore officials.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts spoke at a Baltimore Jewish Council meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 1 about the triumphs and challenges in keeping illegal guns out of the city, combating violent crime and gang activity and staying ahead of criminal activity.
“All of us know Baltimore deserves to be a safer city, and we know it is an achievable goal,” Rawlings-Blake said.
While there is only one gun store in the city of Baltimore, the city has seized approximately 1,500 guns so far in 2013. Still, the city’s homicide rate is up 6 percent this year, which equates to 10 more homicides than this time last year. In 2011, there were 197 homicides in the city, but that number increased to 217 in 2012. Both numbers are historic lows for the city, and overall crime is still declining.
“We can’t be every place all the time,” Batts
said. “We may not be able to stop the first shooting, but the second, third, fourth, fifth — that is unacceptable.”
Batts was referring to the fact that a lot of the city’s shootings are not isolated incidents; they are often drug- or gang-related, and they are often in retaliation for a previous shooting. When a teenage rapper was shot last month, three related shootings followed, Batts said.
“Bad guys in Baltimore come to work every day, and their career is being criminals,” he said. “They keep on top of things … We need to put them on the defensive.”
With criminals moving around and constantly adjusting to changes in policing, Batts said police need to gather intelligence faster and more efficiently. For 33 years, his police work has involved tracking gangs, and so he is training his officers to identify gang tattoos and graffiti, as well as ways to tell what groups are feuding with each other.
Batts, who traveled to Israel in 2003 to learn about combating terrorism, said he is working to update the police department’s technology and to use technology to quickly gather and disseminate intelligence. When a gang- or drug-related shooting happens, police need to identify the associates of the victim and find out who they are feuding with, He said the force can look to social networks for clues.
The mayor said the city is implementing a comprehensive violence-reduction strategy that addresses violence as a health epidemic and includes elementary and middle school programs, help for offenders and interventions with gang members.
Rikki Spector, District 5 councilwoman, said crime prevention needs to filter down from the
police department to the residents.
“You have to live, work, play and learn in Baltimore,” she said.
With 1.6 million people working in Baltimore but only 640,000 living in the city, there is a disparity in taxes, with the income tax of those who work in the city going to the state and the property tax of those who live in the city going to the city.
While her district, which includes Northwest Baltimore, grows with every population count, she wishes the same was happening in other districts.
“Vitality gives safety,” Spector said.