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Baltimore, Prince George's Reign as State's Murder Capitals

Posted on April 24, 2007:

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The County Times Newspaper

The Southern Calvert Gazette Newspaper

By SCOTT SHEWFELT, Capital News Service

WASHINGTON - Baltimore City and Prince George's County accounted for over 75 percent of all Maryland murders in the past two decades, despite making up less than a third of the population, a Capital News Service analysis shows.

In total, 8,787 of the 11,375 murders from 1985-2006 in Maryland took place in one of the two areas, according Maryland State Police uniform crime reports.

Rosie Gross lived in Baltimore during these years, 30 in total, and has seen a lot of changes in her southwest city neighborhood.

Walking home one night in early March, Gross' 18-year-old grandson, Deandre Davis, was shot. He's since been paralyzed in a hospital bed, she said.

"It just seems like this is something that happens almost every night," Gross said. "I think things are getting steadily worse."

Gross is right when she says shootings and murders are happening daily in Baltimore and Prince George's. But statistics have shown that murder rates haven't increased very much in either area over the past two decades, nor have they significantly decreased.

In 2006, nearly 16 of every 100,000 citizens in Prince George's were murdered, up from 15 in 1990. In Baltimore, the number was 44, up from 41 during the same time frame.

Baltimore and Prince George's combined population is 1,472,681, or about 26 percent of the state's 5,615,727, according to census figures.

Baltimore has historically dwarfed Prince George's in number of murders, accounting for 54.9 percent of all murders in the state since 1985.

Prince George's seems determined to make up for lost time with an extraordinary increase in murder levels so far in 2007.

In 2005, Prince George's had a record-high 164 murders. That number dropped last year to 134, but 2007's rate seems destined to surpass the record. As of mid-April, there were 48 murders, 78 percent more than the 27 committed at this time last year, said Prince George's County Police Cpl. Stephen Pacheco.

"With homicides, the sheer numbers don't really tell us much," said Prince George's County Police Chief Melvin High in a statement. "There are more at this time than there were in the same period a year ago, but under the numbers there is much more, and each is something we must be concerned about as a community."

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of these statistics is the lack of surprise from citizens, academics, lawyers and politicians. They also expressed doubt things will get better anytime soon for either location.

"It's a bleak picture, but it's reality," said Margaret Burns, spokeswoman for the Baltimore City State's Attorney's office.

"There is a cultural problem in this country and this violence has been accepted as the norm," said Rep. Albert Wynn, D-Mitchellville. "I'm not surprised by the data."

"These figures are not very surprising," said Laura Dugan, professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of Maryland, College Park.

"Both areas are disproportionately minority," Dugan said. "It is well established that minorities are more affected by violent crime than non-minorities."

The higher the concentration of these marginalized people, the greater chance of crime, which is occurring in Baltimore and in growing pockets in Prince George's, she said.

Gentrification in the Washington, D.C.-area has crowded Prince George's County, Dugan said.

People have been pushed out of the city and into the county where housing is cheaper compared to other metropolitan counties. There is now overcrowding in a high-poverty metro area, Dugan said.

"I don't look at it in terms of just Prince George's County," said Bill Chesley, a Prince George's County real estate agent. It just seems like people are too worried about the criminals and not thinking about the victims and their families, he said.

Chesley lived in Prince George's for most of his life before moving to Anne Arundel County four years ago. He still works in Prince George's and said while his family hasn't been affected directly by murder, an 18-year-old son of a one-time business associate was shot and killed several years ago.

Just by watching television you can see there's a problem, Chesley said, adding it's very upsetting to see multiple offenders getting probation or short sentences.

Gross, too, is frustrated with the legal system. Police told her that her grandson's assailant had shot someone in the past. The police are making the arrests, she said, but criminals are getting back on the streets.

As of mid-April in Baltimore, there have been 79 murders, down one from the same time last year, Burns said.

Of these, only 15 have been solved, Burns said.

The city's poor showing at solving its murders is a major reason why the city is suffering, Burns said, adding in the past seven years there have been nearly 1,200 unsolved murders.

"It's foolish to think there are people who have committed murder and left Baltimore," Burns said.

Nearly everyone in the community is touched by the murders and is growing distrustful of the system, Burns said. There are just so many murder cases, and the longer it takes to get to them the less likely it is to see a conviction, she said.

"People need closure," Burns said, "without it you get an increasingly violent community."

There are many other reasons why Baltimore is a murder hub, Burns said, citing decaying schools, access to major highways for drug distribution and manufacturers packing up and taking low-end jobs with them.

"The poverty rate in Baltimore City is over 20 percent," said Roxanna Harlow a professor of sociology at McDaniel College.

In general, when you have a high concentration of jobless poverty, there are going to be problems, Harlow said. When people can't get power and respect through legitimate means, they gain it through violence, whether it is murder, robbery or any other crime, she said.

People are disenfranchised, they have seen their jobs disappear while waterfront developments are springing up, Burns said, yet "there are parts of Baltimore that look like downtown Baghdad."

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