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Outnumbered

A Look At The Statistics Behind The City's 2008 Homicide Tally

Download the original versions that ran in the paper: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

By Anna Ditkoff | Posted 1/14/2009

Murders were down in Baltimore in 2008. Way down. The lowest they have been since 1988. But here's the thing about numbers: a lot minus a little can still come out to a lot. There were 234 homicides in 2008, a 17 percent decrease from 2007, when the city lost 282 of its citizens to violence, the highest toll since 1999. So, a high followed by a low that maybe isn't really all that low when you look at it, because what's good for Baltimore isn't necessarily good for other places.

You don't need to go far for unfavorable comparisons. Washington, D.C.'s homicide rate rose in 2008, but its per capita murder rate is still lower than Baltimore's (32 murders per 100,000 residents compared to 37 per 100,000 for Charm City). Philadelphia's 2008 homicide rate was 23 per 100,000. New York City had an especially bloody year and its homicide rate was still just 6 per 100,000. (New Orleans, Camden, N.J., and Detroit have worse homicide rates than we do--Detroit just barely--but that's not saying much.)

So the real question isn't how did we get down to 234 murders, but how did we get to the point where 234 seemed like a victory? A victory that we may not repeat. There was an uptick in homicides in the last two months of the year, and 2009 has already been far bloodier than 2008--there were nine murders in the first five days of the year compared to two during the same period in 2008, or, even more alarming, four in 2007. Factor in the continuing recession, which is likely to put extra pressure on pockets and stress levels, and it's hard to say what the new year will bring. The mayor should probably avoid posing on aircraft carriers in front of optimistic banners.

Neither Mayor Sheila Dixon nor Police Commissioner Frederick Bealefeld were available for comment, but at a press conference on Jan. 8, Bealefeld acknowledged the rise in homicides and said that the department will continue to follow its strategy of focusing on "bad guys with guns."

"We have done our best and we will continue to do our best, especially with the legislative session looming, to ramp up statewide attention on this gun-violence issue as it relates to our city," Bealefeld said. "We really need everybody to get behind this notion that gun offenders belong in jail, and we want to keep them in jail for as long as possible."

The statistics below aim to provide some perspective on where, when, and how people were murdered in this city last year.

(The data was collected during the four years City Paper has been printing the Murder Ink column. It is based on information from the Baltimore Police Department and the State's Attorney's Office.)

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