Bloody May, with the highest homicide toll recorded in the city in four decades, is just one indicator of the wave of gun violence that has swept through parts of Baltimore.
Non-fatal shootings are increasing at an even faster clip than homicides, according to police department data.
While the number of homicides has grown by 43% in the first five months of 2015, non-fatal shootings are rising at nearly double that rate.
Figures compiled by Baltimore City Police show there were 219 non-fatal shootings in the city between January and May 2015. That’s 82.5% above the 120 shootings recorded in January-May 2014.
The month of May capped a shooting spree that began earlier in the winter before the Freddie Gray in-custody death that ended in civil unrest on April 27.
Gun violence has been heavily concentrated in the poorest neighborhoods of West and East Baltimore, with the Western District alone accounting for a quarter of all gun violence citywide. The next most-violent district is Eastern, followed by Northeastern and Southwestern.
In contrast, there have been relatively few shootings in the Central, Northern and Southeastern districts.
Reasons for Violence are Unclear
Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts has not attributed any specific causes for the eruption of violence other than the city has been faced with “a time of uncertainty” following the April 27 riot and deployment of 2,000 Maryland National Guard troops and state police to restore order.
According to Batts, violence has been concentrated in the Western District and, overall, “the organization is doing well . . . getting guns off the street [and] making very good arrests.”
In an attempt to restore order in the “Wild Western” with 38 shooting victims in May alone, Batts has made a number of personnel changes in the district.
Ten days ago, the mayor’s newly appointed director of public safety, Stephanie Robinson, fired key personnel at the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, which administers some crime intervention and high-risk youth programs.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake says she wants to make her crime office more effective; so far, there have not been any announced replacements for the vacant positions of director, deputy director and sexual assault response team coordinator.
“There is a sense of hostility or aggression around the police officers” in “stressed” communities, Batts told reporters on May 20, adding that “diplomacy is going to go a long way.”
Last week, Batts and other police officials publicly apologized for not listening to residents in high-crime neighborhoods, with Batts also saying that the city must address the dearth of jobs and recreation facilities to turn the tide against violence.
Other observers have attributed the spike in gun crime to fewer arrests made by police following the Freddie Gray riot and criminal charges leveled against six police officers in connection with Gray’s arrest by State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby.
Others say that Batts’ disbandment of specialized Violent Crimes Impact units in late 2013 has led to more brazen acts by career criminals, a notion that the commissioner has rejected. Until recently, Batts touted his Special Enforcement Zones program as a successful deterrent to crime.
$3 Million for VRO Tracking
Meanwhile, Mayor Rawlings-Blake has attributed gunplay in the streets to “VRO’s” or violent repeat offenders, and says her goal is to make Baltimore the safest big city in America.
Last summer, the city received $3 million for VRO detection and prosecution from former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention.
Most of the funds from the one-year grant went to salaries and benefits of 21 full-time city employees involved in gun trafficking cases, non-fatal shootings and recidivist gun offenders in Baltimore Circuit Court, according to the agreement.
While police try to track VROs, there is growing evidence that the large amount of drugs, including Vicodin and Percocet, that was stolen from 17 pharmacies looted during the April 27 riot has sparked turf battles between gangs and other crime factions in the city.
Last month, DEA agents and Baltimore police raided two rowhouses on West North Avenue where they found a large cache of Schedule II drugs. A reputed leader of the Rolling 60s, a Crips-affiliated gang, was arrested.
The chart below, circulated among city public safety officials, breaks down the violence in May 2015.
Note that it reports 41 homicides, or two fewer than the 43 homicides officially compiled by the police. The official number includes Freddie Gray, whose death was classified as a homicide after the six officers were charged.
According to police, only eight suspects have been arrested in connection with the spree of shootings on the streets.