- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 22, 2005

BALTIMORE (AP) — A wave of killings that has claimed 26 lives in the first 20 days of the year has prompted the city’s acting police commissioner to shuffle his command staff.

Acting Commissioner Leonard Hamm on Friday said the department also is shifting resources to focus on neighborhoods where shootings and homicides occur most often.

“We’re experiencing a tragic spike in violence,” police spokesman Matt Jablow said, “and we’re doing everything we possibly can to suppress it.”

Five more persons were killed on Thursday, taking the total above the 23 recorded for all of January 2003. A similar crime wave occurred in 2000, when police recorded 14 homicides in the first 17 days of the new year.

In response, the department’s second highest ranking officer, Acting Deputy Commissioner Charles Gutberlet, was moved to chief of staff, and Acting Internal Affairs Chief Marcus Brown will become acting deputy commissioner.

Acting Patrol Division Chief Steven McMahon, meanwhile, will lead the warrant apprehension task force.

“This new alignment of commanders will make this a stronger police department and, as a result, help make Baltimore a safer city,” Commissioner Hamm said during a press conference.

Commissioner Hamm previously had said pressure from police to cut down on drug trafficking has dealers trying to collect debts and resorting to violence in the process.

Mayor Martin O’Malley said “the drug trade is a vicious cycle of tit-for-tat killings. I wish I knew a quicker way to put an end to it.”

Police say most of the victims this year match the characteristics of last year’s killings — nearly 90 percent of homicide suspects and victims had criminal records, mostly drug-related.

While murder rates dropped nationwide last year, according to the FBI, the rate rose in Baltimore. Last year, there were 278 homicides in Baltimore, the highest number since 1999.

In the 1990s, more than 300 people were killed each year in Baltimore. In 2000, the number dropped to 261. It fell to 253 in 2002 and rose in 2003 to 271.

Mr. O’Malley, who was first elected five years ago, has made reducing the city’s homicides a cornerstone of his administration. Mr. O’Malley had hoped to reduce homicides to 175 a year by 2002.

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