- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 2, 2008

BALTIMORE (AP) — Baltimore recorded 282 homicides in 2007, a slight increase over the previous year and the city’s highest total since 1999, when 305 persons were slain.

Although the city experienced a slowdown in violent crime after a particularly bloody first half of the year, the final homicide count was similar to the previous five years. In that period, homicides haven’t dipped below 269 or risen to more than 282.

The year was particularly grim for children: 27 of the city’s homicide victims were younger than 18, according to police.

The year’s final victim was Todd Dargan, 25, who was shot several times as he stood outside a supermarket on the afternoon of Dec. 28 in a violent section of East Baltimore. Police have no suspects in the slaying.

Fueled by a booming illegal-drug trade, increasing gang activity and easy access to guns, homicides topped 300 every year in the 1990s, and 2002’s total of 253 stands as the city’s lowest since 1988.

With a population of 631,366, according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics, Baltimore remains among the nation’s worst cities for homicides per capita, with about 44 slayings per 100,000 residents.

Baltimore’s per-capita rate trailed New Orleans and Detroit in 2006, and New Orleans got even bloodier in 2007, with 209 killings in a city of 295,450.

New York’s and Chicago’s 2007 homicide totals were the lowest in more than 40 years, and in Philadelphia, slayings dipped slightly after reaching a nine-year high in 2006. But in several other big cities, slayings increased — including in Atlanta, Miami and Dallas.

The number of homicides in the District crept above the total for 2006, reversing a four-year decline.

The District had 182 killings in 2007, up from 169 in 2006. It was the first time the homicide total has risen since 2002, but it was the second-lowest total in 22 years.

Things in Baltimore looked much worse July 19, the day Police Commissioner Leonard D. Hamm resigned. At that point, Baltimore had recorded 178 homicides, putting it on pace for a total of 325, which would have been the most since 1996.

But under Commissioner Hamm’s successor, Frederick H. Bealefeld III, 104 persons were slain over the final 165 days of the year. If sustained for an entire year, that pace would give the city 230 homicides. Nonfatal shootings also declined dramatically under Commissioner Bealefeld, and in early December, the city had a rare five-day stretch with no shootings at all.

Commissioner Bealefeld and Mayor Sheila Dixon have focused their enforcement efforts on repeat violent offenders, frequently sending them to the federal court system, where they face mandatory minimum sentences. They also have revived a police unit that traces illegal guns.

Daniel Webster, co-director of the Center for Gun Policy and Research at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, said the new strategies made sense.

“I expect them to bear more fruit as time goes on,” Mr. Webster wrote in an e-mail, adding that the mayor and police commissioner “have become more focused [appropriately] on getting illegal guns off the street and violent gun offenders off the street.”

Yet 2008 wasn’t an hour old when the city had its first homicide of the new year.

Detective Donny Moses, a police spokesman, said a 28-year-old man was shot several times by a man who robbed New Year’s Eve partygoers inside a Cherry Hill apartment. The victim died at the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center shortly before 1 a.m. yesterday.

Detective Moses said the partygoers apparently did not know the gunman, who came into the apartment wearing all black. He drew a handgun and ordered everyone to hand over cash and property. The victim didn’t comply and was shot.

The gunman fled on foot. No one else was hurt.

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