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Crime & Justiceby Mark Reutter8:45 pmNov 25, 20120

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

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

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

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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