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Baltimore’s murder rates continue to climb

For the first time in nearly 20 years, Baltimore City reached a rather macabre milestone: over 100 homicides were recorded in the city before the end of April. As of Sunday, May 7, there were 118 murders recorded. As it is, the murder rate for 2017 is over 30 percent higher than last year.

According to “The Baltimore Sun,” the last time Baltimore experienced murder rates such as these was in 1993, when the total homicide count for the year reached 353 – the most in the city’s history. However, the city’s population was 723,802 at the time. Due to a population decrease that surpassed 100,000 people (nearing a 100-year low), this year’s homicide rate per capita surpasses 1993 levels.

Along with homicides, other violent crimes have increased up to 23 percent. Robberies and shootings have also experienced significant, double-digit increases compared to last year. As the city and its officials struggle to deal with the overflow of violence, Mayor Catherine Pugh went to the FBI’s office in the city to plead for help.

The alarming increases in violent crime are not the only issues plaguing the city in 2017. Baltimore law enforcement is suffering as it operates with fewer than 2,500 officers. Through the 2000s, the city had never gone with fewer than 2,900. Trying to stretch out the force, Baltimore has been paying around $1 million a month in overtime in order to compensate.

Additionally, the Mayor’s Office on Criminal Justice lost just over half of its staff, including the director and the coordinator of its Sexual Assault Response Team. This is especially problematic as the office created crime-fighting strategies, coordinated with the state and applied for crucial grant funding.

The office, according to Mayor Pugh, is going through a “reorganization.” Some of the positions within the office were grant-funded, and just happened to expire, leading to many departures. Budget cuts and loss of funding are major issues for the Office on Criminal justice, leading not only to staff departures, but to the freezing of crucial programs.

The city’s Safe Streets program was one such victim. The program, which has ex-convicts intervene in community disputes in an attempt to cut down on violence, has now lost more than $1 million in grant funding.

As Baltimore scrambles to combat the wave of violence, Mayor Pugh partnered with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Explosives to bring a mobile ballistics lab to the city. The National Integrated Ballistics Information Network van functions as a forensic lab, complete with a trailer in which officers can test-fire weapons.

The hope in using the mobile ballistics lab is that comprehensive analysis that usually takes days may happen over the course of a few hours. By making the process more efficient, city officials and law enforcement hope that it may alleviate some of the strain officers experience with so many cases to cover.

“Murder is out of control. There are too many guns on the streets. We’re looking for all the help we can get,” Pugh said in her weekly news briefing at the end of April.