Baltimore homicides top 300 for year, worst since 1999

Reuters News
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Posted: Nov 14, 2015 8:19 PM

By Ian Simpson

(Reuters) - Baltimore recorded its 300th homicide of the year on Saturday, police said, up 42 percent from last year's total and its highest toll since the 1990s with more than a month still to go in 2015.

There has been an upsurge in killings in some U.S. cities. In Baltimore, the number of homicides has surged since protests and rioting in April sparked by the death of a black man in police custody.

The latest victim was a 27-year-old man who officers found stabbed on Saturday afternoon, police said in a statement. He died shortly after being taken to a hospital.

Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said Baltimore had reached a "sad homicide milestone" but that a united city could find a way forward.

"This challenging moment shall pass if we reject blame and embrace the hope, dreams, and promise of a great American city," he said in a statement.

This year is the first time the annual homicide toll has topped 300 since 1999, when 305 were recorded.

The surge in homicides started after the unrest sparked by the death of Freddie Gray, a black man, from a spinal injury in police custody. Six officers have been charged in the death.

Jeffrey Ian Ross, a criminologist at the University of Baltimore, said the illegal drug trade and easy access to guns/">handguns was likely behind the upsurge in homicides.

"It could be new people coming into the game and an increased need to demonstrate authority inside a gang," he said.

Baltimore police said in June that gang turf fights fueled by drugs looted from pharmacies were a cause of the increase.

Baltimore, a mostly black city of about 620,000 people, is among a number of large U.S. cities with an upturn in homicides this year. They include Chicago, Washington, Milwaukee and Sacramento, California.

Big city U.S. police chiefs in August blamed repeat offenders, illicit drugs and guns with bigger magazines for part of the increase.

Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey last month said that murder rates were soaring in many cities partly because police were holding back from aggressive tactics, fearful of being video recorded and accused of brutality.

Baltimore had more than 300 homicides a year between 1990 and 1999. The numbers peaked at 353 in 1993 and then fell to 197 in 2011, according to police data.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson in Washington and Donna Owens in Baltimore; Editing by David Gregorio)