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Baltimore City’s year-to-date homicide and clearance rates rise

Patrick Semansky
A Baltimore Police Department cruiser at a crime scene. On Wednesday, police officials shared crime statistics at a city council hearing.

Both Baltimore City’s rates of homicide and investigators' success in solving them rose in 2021, according to year-to-date data police officials shared at a hearing Wednesday.

The city has recorded 315 homicides this year, compared to 307 homicides a year earlier. Clearance rates rose along with them: investigators solved 41.6% of homicide cases in 2021, compared to 38.4% in 2020.

Nonetheless, the increase still puts Baltimore well below the national average: the homicide clearance rate in comparative cities is 54.7%, according to data from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program.

Nonfatal shootings dropped by less than 1%, from 670 last year to 664 this year. The clearance rates for these crimes also ticked upwards; 26.2% of nonfatal shootings were solved in 2021, compared to 20.2% in 2020.

“We need to be doing better, much better,” Councilman Mark Conway, said at the virtual hearing of the city council’s Public Safety Committee. “An extraordinary amount of our city budget and an extraordinary portion of our city workforce is dedicated to public safety and violence prevention efforts.”

The Democrat noted a decrease in violent crime in the north, northwest and northeast police districts, compared to increases in every other district, and asked police officials what has fueled the drops.

Deputy Commissioner Sheree Briscoe said BPD needs to dive deeper in the data, but noted that there has been an increase in tips from residential areas have seen an increase in tips.

“We're getting more participation. Whether that's preventative or in response, that's the piece that we're trying to figure out… in a way that shows that this is indeed a part of the puzzle that's missing in other districts,” she said.

Col. Rich Worley, chief of patrol, noted that people have spent more time at home since the coronavirus pandemic hit.

“There's more possible witnesses there to see things, because so many more people are working from home, and we get more cooperation,” he said.

BPD officials also shared the results of an audit of the department’s evidence control unit, covering 2014 through 2020, which found a rampant lack of policies and procedures for inventories.

The unit did not have written policies to require routine inventories to ensure that all evidence was accounted for, nor did it require regularly scheduled reviews of confiscated property to identify items that could be thrown out or returned to owners, resulting in items needlessly held for extended periods.

The department also did not have procedures to ensure that all evidence temporarily transferred out of different storage units was properly accounted for and returned.

“One of the things that was glaring was us not reporting to the Maryland state police the number of firearms that had been destroyed,” said Kendall Jaeger, Chief of the Forensic Science & Evidence Services Division.

The report also found that the unit did not maintain adequate documentation to support overtime costs totaling $1 million.

BPD leaders shared with the committee new operating procedures that were written based on the audit’s findings. The unit’s officers must now routinely conduct inventories, and a new evidence management system to track the locations and movements of evidence was implemented in March 2021.

Emily Sullivan is a city hall reporter at WYPR, where she covers all things Baltimore politics. She joined WYPR after reporting for NPR’s national airwaves. There, she was a reporter for NPR’s news desk, business desk and presidential conflicts of interest team. Sullivan won a national Edward R. Murrow Award for an investigation into a Trump golf course's finances alongside members of the Embedded team. She has also won awards from the Chesapeake Associated Press Broadcasters Association for her use of sound and feature stories. She has provided news analysis on 1A, The Takeaway, Here & Now and All Things Considered.