Baltimore has become the second deadliest city in America (after St. Louis) with homicides surpassing those of Detroit, the longtime poster child for urban violence.
During the first seven months of 2015, Detroit police reported 163 slayings. That compares to 189 killings recorded through July in Baltimore.
With 10% fewer residents than Detroit, Baltimore’s current homicide rate (deaths per 100,000 people) is running about 26% above that of the Motor City.
That’s quite a reversal from the recent past.
In 2012, Detroit had 411 homicides compared to Baltimore’s 219. The following year, Detroit had the highest murder rate among larger U.S. cities, according to the 2013 Uniform Crime Report published by the FBI, while Baltimore came in fifth (behind Detroit, New Orleans, Newark and St. Louis).
But the surge in violence that followed Freddie Gray’s death and the April 27 riots – capped by 45 mostly gun-related homicides last month – has placed Baltimore at the forefront of deadly cities in America.
A Baltimore Brew review of online police records at other large cities indicates that Baltimore has become the second most violent city in America, following St. Louis.
While other cities have experienced an increase in killings this year – including Chicago, New York City and Washington – none has spiked to the level of Baltimore (with the exception of St. Louis and Milwaukee).
On the other hand, several cities with traditionally high murder rates – such as Oakland and Newark – have reported no significant increase in slayings so far this year, while one notable crime hot spot – Camden, N.J., – reported a 20% drop in homicides compared to the same period last year.
Homicides in 20 Cities
Here is a breakdown of 2015 homicides in U.S. cities gleaned by The Brew from online police records. Additional information came from the Major Cities Chiefs Police Association.
The list below is arranged by level of violence – going from the city with the highest homicide rate to the lowest.
It does not include all major U.S. cities, but instead is a sampling of 20 cities, including those with a historically high number of slayings.
PLEASE NOTE that the figures below are half-year totals, which means that if fatalities continue at their current pace, the full-year homicide rate for these cities would be roughly double the rates listed below.
• St. Louis – 116 homicides as of August 4, up over 50% from the same period in 2014. Based on its population, St. Louis’ half-year homicide rate is 36 per 100,000 residents.
• Baltimore – 189 homicides through July 31, almost 60% more than the same period last year. The city’s rate is now at a historic high based on its population – 30 slayings per 100,000 residents. (During the 1970s, there were higher homicide numbers in some years, but the city had between 200,000 and 250,000 more residents then.)
• New Orleans – 103 homicides through mid-July, or 27 per 100,000 residents.
• Detroit – 163 homicides through July 31, or 24 per 100,000 residents.
• Newark, NJ – 52 homicides through July 26, or 19 per 100,000 residents.
• Camden, NJ – 16 homicides through through July, or 19 per 100,000 residents.
• Milwaukee – 95 homicides through August 1, or 16 per 100,000 residents.
• Cincinnati – 45 homicides through August 1, or 15 per 100,000 residents.
• Memphis – 91 homicides through July, or 14 per 100,000 residents.
• Washington, D.C. – 87 homicides through July, or 13 per 100,000 residents. (Homicides have increased by 26% over the same period of 2014.)
• Oakland, CA – 49 homicides through July, or 12 per 100,000 residents.
• Kansas City – 49 homicides through August 6, or 11 per 100,000 residents.
• Atlanta – 45 homicides as of June 30, or 10 per 100,000 residents
• Philadelphia – 154 homicides as of August 5, or 10 per 100,000 residents.
• Chicago – 252 homicides as of July 31, or 9 per 100,000 residents.
• Dallas – 74 homicides through July 14, or 6 per 100,000 residents.
• Los Angeles – 150 homicides as of August 1, or 4 per 100,000 residents.
• Boston – 18 homicides as of August 2, or 2.8 per 100,000 residents.
• New York City – 196 homicides as of July 31, or 2.3 per 100,000 residents.
• San Diego – 17 homicides through June 30, or 1.3 per 100,000 residents.
“Al Capone” Shootouts
Even as violent crime hangs heavy over many parts of Baltimore, its causes remain elusive and subject to multiple explanations.
Interim Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis – his predecessor, Anthony W. Batts, was sacked by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake on July 8 – blames easy access to guns and gang-inspired retaliatory killings.
Earlier this week, Davis joined police chiefs from around the country who met in Washington to discuss the surge in violence.
After the private meeting, which was sponsored by the Major Cities Chiefs Police Association, several of them spoke to reporters.
“We have not seen what we’re seeing right now in decades,” said D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier.
No longer are homicides a solitary affair between a shooter and a victim, according to Lanier and other chiefs. Increasingly, urban murders involve gunplay between multiple persons armed with sophisticated weapons.
The rise of Al Capone-style shootouts are underscored by the higher number of victims being shot at a crime scene.
This happened most recently in Baltimore last Sunday (August 2) when seven people were shot at the same time on West Garrison Avenue in Park Heights.
There were no fatalities – all the victims were shot in the leg, possibly as a warning.
Police in Baltimore and nationwide say they are finding more weapons with high-capacity magazines.
In Chicago, police have made 22% more gun arrests in 2015, but murders still have risen by 21%, according to the Major Cities Chiefs group.
In Baltimore – where a deep mistrust of police is shared by many residents in poor neighborhoods and the city Board of Estimates routinely doles out millions of dollars a year to privately settle police brutality cases – Freddie Gray’s death detonated a night of violence and looting on April 27.
With more than 30 pharmacies broken into by looters, roughly 300,000 doses of prescription drugs and opiates were stolen, Shawn Ellerman, an assistant special agent at the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), told reporters.
Baltimore police said they have arrested an increased number of offenders who were under the influence of drugs, but that number appears to be decreasing as the cache of stolen drugs is exhausted.
What continues to dog city police is their inability to find and arrest suspects in the recent slayings.
The current homicide clearance rate is 36.6%. That’s below the department’s mid-40s average and far worse than the national average of 65% of murder cases “cleared” by a suspect either held in custody or subject to an arrest warrant.
Earlier this week, Commissioner Davis announced that 10 federal agents will be “embedded” in the homicide unit to help city police with the backlog of unsolved homicides.
Already 20 agents from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) are working with city detectives, and a full-time FBI analyst is assigned to BPD’s analytical intelligence section.
Davis also disclosed a major reorganization of the department’s command ranks, which included the reshuffling or retirement of several high-ranking officials.
This comes in the wake of several reorganizations implemented by Batts during his nearly three-year tenure as Baltimore’s top cop – and the dismissal by Mayor Rawlings-Blake of the top leadership of her Office on Criminal Justice in May.
Identifying the causes of Baltimore’s violent crime surge has also become fodder for the increasing tensions between City Hall and State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby.
Mosby recently criticized the mayor’s office for authorizing a Homicide Review Commission – which included $244,000 awarded to the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg Center for Gun Policy and Research on June 10 – when “we know why homicides are taking place.”
“We know it has to do with drugs,” Mosby said in a WBAL radio interview. “We know it has to do with gangs. We know it has to do with turf wars.”