As Baltimore’s homicide total climbs, D.C. murders plummet

Same-size cities, one with 200 homicides, the other with 78.

missing you vigil waire

At a New Year’s Eve vigil last year to remember Baltimore’s homicide victims.

Photo by: John Waire

Although their populations are nearly identical (619,500 vs. 618,000), Baltimore and Washington are experiencing striking differences in their 2012 homicide counts.

While yesterday marked the 200th homicide in Baltimore – a 22-year-old shot multiple times next to a Sandtown-Winchester liquor store – the District of Columbia has registered fewer than 80 slayings.

As a result, while Baltimore is barreling past its record of 198 murders last year, Washington is on target to complete 2012 with fewer than 100 homicides.

11/26 UPDATE – Murders No. 201 and 202 took place in Baltimore last night – one on Barclay Street near 22d, a neighborhood the city is trying to resuscitate with new housing, and another at Calhoun near Edmondson Ave., just blocks from Saturday’s shooting death in Sandtown-Winchester.

The first fatality was an unidentified 16-year-old male and the second a 34-year-old male. Both were shot multiple times and were found by police between 9 and 9:30 p.m.

Role Reversal

That’s a big change from 20 years ago when Washington was dubbed the nation’s “murder capital” with the highest homicide rate of any large U.S. city – even Detroit.

Back then, the number of murders in the District topped 470 a year – significantly more than Baltimore’s high water mark of 353 homicides in 1993.

So what explains the five-fold decline in 20 years?

Experts point to many factors for D.C.’s declining rate, according to a story by the Associated Press. For one thing, the epidemic of crack cocaine that hit Washington in the 1990s has run its course.

But the overarching factor, says AP’s Eric Tucker, is rapid gentrification. “Whole city blocks have been refashioned, drug dens razed, a Major League Baseball stadium built in place of urban blight, high-rise public housing replaced by less-dense garden-style apartments,” he writes. “Though the poverty rate has risen, the growing wealth has pushed impoverished communities further away from the city center.”

Equally significant is population. Washington is growing again, while Baltimore continues to lose residents, especially residents who have the economic means to leave. Accumulating force ever since the 1960s, the outflow of population leads to derelict neighborhoods where crime can and does take hold.

Entrance to police headquarters on East Fayette Street. (Photo by Mark Reutter)

Above the entrance to police headquarters on Fayette Street. (Photo by Mark Reutter)

Other Crime Measures

Other measures of crime place Baltimore and Washington somewhat more on par.

Burglary is a persistent problem in gentrifying parts of D.C., just as it has become an issue in Patterson Park, Canton and other recently upscaled Baltimore neighborhoods.

But the overall rate of violent crime in Washington – rape, robbery and aggravated assault in addition to homicide – was 1,241 per 100,000 residents in 2010.

That’s 36% lower than Baltimore’s 1,692 rate.

More in Sorrow Than in Anger

In addressing the city’s homicide uptick last week at City Hall, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake cited 2011′s homicide rate as the lowest in several decades and pointed to lower gun crimes – then flatly said of this year’s bloodshed: “The homicide numbers are tragic.”

Rawlings-Blake said she is not planning any radical shifts in policing policy. Instead, her office and newly-appointed Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts will continue to crack down on violent offenders and beef up efforts to improve community engagement.

But expressing more sadness than anger in remarks to reporters, she noted, “Every day I wake up and renew my commitment to make Baltimore the safest city . . .  I don’t believe there is an acceptable level of homicide.”

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  • Joshua Berlow

    It’s a bit strange to say that Baltimore and Washington have the same population. This is only true because of a historical quirk- before the Civil War, Washington DC was a square bisected by the Potomac River. During the Civil War, Virginia took its half back. So you can say that densely populated Northern Virginia technically isn’t part of DC, but really it is. To make this comparison truly accurate you’d have to include Northern VA and even possibly the suburbs of both cities. 

    Most of the crime in DC has moved to downscale suburban areas like PG County or Northern VA, while in Baltimore it’s still in the city. DC has gentrified faster, but eventually the same thing will happen in Baltimore.

    • Brandon

       Well Joshua, you apparently have never been to Northern Virginia’s share of the proposed District, or studied history. A Virginia did not take it’s half back,it never had it. If you include the Virginia section of the proposed District the odds are skewed even worse against Baltimore. Baltimore is largely a festering slum, lacking major well paying employers (Johns Hopkins or more correctly – Broadway Industries  does not pay well). Baltimore is now en league with Gary,Ind., Newark, NJ, Detroit and Flint, Mich., it is a slum where murder will only get you five years and really very few people care.

  • RealGMan

    Also notable, PG County homicide rates are down this year. Assumption has always been that Gentrification pushed the crime across the border into Prince George’s County. If you compare the year-to-year homicide numbers of DC and PG in the last decade you kinda see that trend play out, but that connection appears to be falling off as well. Still, If you look at this from a cynical gentrification approach, Baltimore has no “outlet” to push its poverty like D.C., NY and Chicago has, nor is it large enough to hide it like LA or Philly does. 

    Thing with D.C, unless I see numbers proving otherwise I doubt we’re seeing the city’s traditional population force this change. The city’s historic African-American population is rapidly being replaced by rich white people attracted by the city’s infrastructure and infotech economy. D.C’s AA population was at 50% according to the 2010 Census,  down from a height of 70%. If the population trends continues, the AA community could be a “majority minority” population by the 2020 census. Again, I can see many of these families purposely moving to MoCo, PG and Charles County for the upside of the suburban lifestyle. Many, many others are being pushed out forcefully by gentrification, unable to afford the city’s new yuppie lifestyle.  

    Trying to find parallels to Baltimore is interesting but ultimately unfair. We don’t have near the infotech economy that D.C. does, especially with the base infrastructure the Federal government provides (though if our trains ran 24/7 to DC…). D.C.’s “successful” gentrification also provides those who would love to move entire low-income communities out of of the way for their purposes a “game plan.” Everything people here hate about city development, BDC, tax breaks, the way low-income communities are handled, etc. will be accelerated 10-fold.

    And if someone every explains Charm City’s fixation on heroin (the baseline for a lot of our crime) I’d love to hear it. David Simon recently mentioned he’s supposed to pen a history of Baltimore’s Drug Trade, maybe he can help. 

    Coincidently, I spent last weekend hanging around Dupont Circle. DC has all the infrastructure of a major city but I never seem to find its ‘scene’. Lots of money and ways to spend it but little that’s inherently interesting. My friends told me next time I go I should hang out along the H Street Corridor, a historic black neighborhood on par with Harlem that apparently is the home of cool hipster bars now. Such is gentrification. 

    • Brandon

      If you compare sentencing for murder, it is much longer in DC as shown in the recent Bassil’s verdict – Life for stabbing her boyfriend. In Baltimore she gets less than five years. No respect for human lives in Baltimore leads to the higher murder rate. Baltimore has given up.

    • James Hunt

       RealGMan wrote: ” … My friends told me next time I go I should hang out along the U Street
      Corridor, a historic black neighborhood on par with Harlem that
      apparently is the home of cool hipster bars now. Such is gentrification. …”


      It’s nice, but not on par with Harlem. More like what Baltimore’s Pennsylvania Avenue could be if Coppin was on a par with Howard and if the Royal Theater hadn’t been torn down. U Street’s Lincoln Theater looks great.

  • trueheart4life

    Wow!  Our little princess is sad.  Maybe when she gets really pissed she’ll do something … Please tell US what it’s gonna take to piss her off??? #StatusQuo?

  • bmorepanic

    34 days left for more dead bodies – much too soon for comparasions.

    • baltimorebrew

      See our update (in this post) on murders 201 and 202.

  • Gerald Neily

    Great conversation! According to the “time stamps”, these first five comments were submitted between 11 PM and 4 AM – a new application of “Cyber Monday”. Brew readers are the best !!!!!!

  • RickFromBmore

    There is no easy answer here, but I would suggest that more police will not solve our city’s crime problems. We should focus on infrastructure improvements (more transit, fewer busted water pipes, etc.) to make the city more inviting to newcomers and more livable for long time residents. I would be more than happy to see the police budget cut to re-direct funding towards better parks, better transportation, better schools, etc.

  • cwals99

    If you go to Washington the first thing you notice is the wealth factor and the gentrification that has happened at the speed of light.  The financial collapse happened and the reforms to build cities financed by huge stimulus spending created a taxpayer-fueled affluent development across the country, but especially in DC.  As poor and working class are pushed out, the crimes of poverty go with them.  The shootings in urban areas are crimes of poverty.

    Baltimore has a larger problem than most cities as it ranks at the top of lists in this regard.  That can be partially attributed to public policy that hinders employment and stifles the funding of programs that would stabilize underserved communities.  We have instead a policy of police aggression that magnifies the violence and distrust.  Now that discussion of development outside the city core is starting, let’s hope that these problems are mitigated with development that lifts all boats in a community.

  • BmoreFree

    The high murder rate can be summed up in three little words: lack of opportunity.

  • Gerald Neily

    Baltimore has done all the same gentrification and other stuff: “Whole city blocks have been refashioned, drug dens razed, a Major League Baseball stadium built in place of urban blight, high-rise public housing replaced by less-dense garden-style apartments,” “Though the poverty rate has risen, the growing wealth has pushed impoverished communities further away from the city center.” 
    Sandtown-Winchester, where murder #200 happened, has had many many millions poured into it, and is only a couple blocks from the Upton Metro station which has been open decades longer than the line serving DC’s U Street Metro Station.

    • Renee Libby Beck

      I was thinking the same thing when I read that section—that Baltimore *has* done a lot of those things. Baltimore has seen years of gentrification, but somehow things are changing. Do we have greater drug trafficking? Weaker gun control? I wish we could pinpoint the answer …

      • RealGMan

        Baltimore gentrified its old white working class neighborhoods (Canton, Fell’s Point, Fed Hill, Hampden), many of which were the older communities were on their way out to the suburbs already. Also, the city redeveloped large swaths of the old industrial core (Inner Harbor, Camden Yards, Harbor East, Tidepoint) where few people were living. The only project that I can think of that’s remotely similar to DC, where you have a wholesale push of poverty from one location to another, was when the city imploded the highrise projects to build mix-use development off Lexington. Gentrification hasn’t really touched Baltimore’s African-American community the way it has in DC, to the tune of large chunks of a culture being dispersed. Geography, history, transportation, etc. all seem to play into those decisions here in Bmore.  

        • Barnadine_the_Pirate

          Washington D.C. has the Metro. Baltimore has a pathetic farce of a public transportation system. The existence of the metro means that any place within walking distance of a metro station is effectively within walking distance of everyplace else — so all parts of the city are equally viable as places to work and live.

          That’s not the case in Baltimore.  Why move to some place in the HarBel corridor where you still need to drive 40 minutes to your job when you could move into the county, pay half as much in taxes, have a usable school, and drive 40 minutes to your job?

          If you wanted to increase density and increase the desirability of living in the city, we need something like the D.C. metro to pull various neighborhoods together.  (It would also help to have a colossal money-pump in the heart of the city, like D.C. has with the federal government and New York has with Wall Street).

      • Gerald Neily

        My short answer from a physical planning standpoint is that Baltimore has very consciously shielded its gentrification from the effects of the overall urban decay, clinging to the waterfront like clinging to a security blanket. Harbor Point and Locust Point are like gated communities, and even in places away from the waterfront like EBDI, Hampden, and Cross Keys, we’ve used geographic elements like parks, expressways, and even parking garages and the Charm City Circulator to shield people from the undesirable instead of weaving the city together.

    • Barnadine_the_Pirate

      The difference is that the Baltimore Metro is a single line, while the D.C. metro is multiple lines that actually connect most of the city and inner suburbs.

  • Mark Adams

    The short-term spike in the homicide rate comes from the city’s shifting of the charging function for homicides from the police department to the State’s Attorney’s Office. Drug and gang murders tend to be related. Sometimes they can be prevented by quick action. The State’s Attorney’s office has slowed down the works.

    The long term trend comes from the lack of jobs. Washington’s economy is much healthier than Baltimore’s, because of federal employment opportunities and related spin-off jobs.

    • Steve

       Let’s not forget that over the last decade Washington, DC shed its poorest residents and gained yuppies.  Kick poverty out definitely helps lower your murder rate even if it doesn’t help lower the national murder rate.

  • discer

    Drugs , drugs and more drugs. That is what drives the bulk of crime in any city. The war on drugs is a joke but highly profitable for the attorneys, bail bonds folk, methadone clinics and others. Without a serious shift in how this country deals with drugs litlle will change except to push the crime into someone elses neighboorhood.

  • Gerald Neily

    The academic underpinning for Baltimore’s crime fighting strategy is contained in a University of California study described on page 4 of today’s Sun. The strategy is to spend a greater amount of money to hire a greater number of cops and pay them as little as possible, thus making them cost-effective. But even while supporting the city’s strategy, the study finds Baltimore is still “underpoliced” and says we should raise taxes still more to hire still more police. Our taxes are too low. The cost of crime is implicitly like an additional 14% tax (of what?) so we should raise taxes another 14% to hire more police. Brilliant. (Sarcasm intended.)

  • Andrew Waldman

    About 2,500 people have been murdered in Baltimore since the September 11 attacks, which killed 3,000 people. This country went to war twice over those 3,000 people, but it can’t be bothered to respond in a thoughtful way to the problems within its major cities. Until a bunch of American mayors stand together and call for a real solution to this problem, nothing changes. SRB can be sad all she wants, but if she wanted to change things (which she doesn’t), she’d have to take a political risk and mention that the drug war is the actual cause of the violence. I’m betting that her political future is more valuable to her than the lives of a few poor Baltimoreans. 

    Does anyone in this town think any of our political leaders are brave enough to do that? 

  • Barnadine_the_Pirate

    Let’s just do what DC did, and push all the poor people into the suburbs.

  • Barnadine_the_Pirate

    Anyone compare the change in D.C.’s crime rate to the change in Prince George’s County’s? The crime is going somewhere, and my guess a lot of it is to P.G. and Montgomery County.

    • Ed

      PG’s murders are down this year but other crime is up.

  • Day_Star

    Anyone looking for single explanation isn’t going to find it.  The answer is “most of the above”.  An additional reason theorized by a man who has lived in both cities is the obsession of Baltimorians with race and the past.  Sure, many people carry it with them in DC, but it generally doesn’t consume their minute-by-minute thoughts and perspectives where everything big or small jogs memories, teachings or folklore of past wrongs.  DC is based in the present and looks to the future while Baltimore has a “whoa is me because of [place reason here]” complex that inevitably leads to anger, resentment, false bravado, and eventual crime.”Don’t forget the past” and similar expressions you don’t hear often in DC for a number of reasons, including its transient population and jobs that make people toss the chips on their shoulders, while in Baltimore, such expressions are said so much one’s ear drums could explode.  Talking about the past incessantly has become both a shake-down method on public and private institutions and a coy hate monger cry against anyone or anything that is perceived as not being one of them, regardless of how great their commitment is to the City and its people.  

  • 9595

    the main reason DC homicide is down because they done torn down projects after projects after projects. hoods aint beefin like they use to cuz half the hoods dont exist no more

  • TylerNull of YouTube

    With over 200 homicides last year, when will Baltimore suspend its governing class? Dem’RATs are a merciless joke against humanity.

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