- The Washington Times - Monday, September 1, 2008

BALTIMORE | City officials say the typical increase in summer violence did not occur this year, preserving their 30 percent decrease in homicides.

The city, one of the most violent in the country, had 146 official slayings as of Sunday, compared with 206 at this time last year.

The decrease began last summer after Frederick H. Bealefeld III was appointed commissioner of the Baltimore Police Department. He has focused on a strategy of arresting repeat violent offenders that appears to be working.

“We’re really talking about bad guys with guns and people that are violent in our communities,” Commissioner Bealefeld said. “That’s our priorities.”

Baltimore recorded at least 300 homicides every year in the 1990s because of illegal drug trade, gang activity and easy access to guns. The yearly toll had decreased to 253 by 2002, but last year had such a violent start that predictions over the summer had the city finishing with 325 killings.

But in mid-July, then-police Commissioner Leonard D. Hamm resigned, and Mayor Sheila A. Dixon promoted Commissioner Bealefeld. The numbers so far appear to support his strategy. In the 12 months after Commissioner Hamm’s resignation, the city has had 218 homicides - nearly a third less than the same period from 2006 to 2007.

As part of Baltimore’s new approach, police officers work with parole officers, community members and state and federal officials to pinpoint violent criminals. Then, they build cases that they can win with whatever charges are available, aiming to get those most-wanted people off the streets for as long as possible.

In addition, the mayor’s office has a strategy of targeting problem neighborhoods for two to four months with increased social services and police presence. And Baltimore’s health department has adopted a program based on Chicago’s CeaseFire model in which on-the-street workers — often ex-convicts — try to prevent violence through mediation.

Both the law enforcement and social services angles are crucial, said Mrs. Dixon, a Democrat.

Despite the rapid decrease in homicides, the city with about 624,000 residents had more slayings in 2007 than it had in eight years. The toll ranked Baltimore fourth in the country in homicides per capita, according to preliminary FBI statistics. The top three were New Orleans; Gary, Ind., and Richmond, Calif.

Baltimore is projected to have 220 killings by Dec. 31. That would be the lowest yearly total since 1985 but still would put Baltimore eighth on the list of most deadly U.S. cities based on 2007 figures.

Budget cuts as a result of the worsening economy could hurt the Baltimore strategy, especially if either law enforcement or social services receive less funding, said Jack Levin, co-director of the Brudnick Center on Violence at Northeastern University in Boston.

Peter Moskos, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City and a former Baltimore police officer, said “the real question” is whether Baltimore’s population, which has plummeted from nearly 1 million in the 1950s, will begin to rebound.

“You know it’s working if the people stop leaving,” he said.

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