As Baltimore murders soar, mayor talks tough on crime

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BALTIMORE (AP) — Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh said Wednesday that recent crime figures are "trending in the right direction," hopeful of achieving a turnaround in a city where the number of homicides this year is nearing the all-time high set in 2015.

The city of roughly 620,000 people has recorded more than 320 killings so far this year, nearing the record 344 slayings in all of 2015. In comparison, New York City, a city of some 8.5 million, is projected to have fewer than 300 homicides this year.

At her weekly press briefing, Pugh said a new city initiative is chipping away at skyrocketing crime as authorities particularly focus attention on five troubled zones. She also said directors from 30 departments have been meeting daily at police headquarters in recent weeks to make crime reduction a top priority.

"We're focused on the long-term and the short-term. That's why these meetings take place daily in our police department and as you can see I think they are producing results," said Pugh, seeking to put a positive spin on city crime rates she described in early November as "out of control."

Police Commissioner Kevin Davis appeared alongside Pugh at Wednesday's news conference. He said figures showing fewer homicides, non-fatal shootings and other crimes since the Oct. 30 launch of the city's latest crime-fighting initiative "provide us with a lot of momentum going into 2018."

"October 30th might not seem like a long time, but being able to pause and recognize the momentum and the crime reductions that are being accomplished across the board is something that we find very encouraging," Davis said.

Gary LaFree, a professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of Maryland, said it's generally not possible to turn crime around that rapidly.

"In general, serious crime trends are gradual — not like the ups and downs of an EKG," LaFree said by email.

Jeffrey Ian Ross, a criminologist at the University of Baltimore, noted that crime rates ebb and flow due to complex dynamics. He said it could be possible there is a "leveling off" happening on the streets that is totally "unrelated to what the police or the city are doing."

On Tuesday, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan came to Baltimore to announce plans to crack down on gangs and repeat violent offenders, including directing the state police to help serve high-priority warrants in Baltimore. The U.S. Marshals Service also said it would help the state and the city with high-priority arrest warrants for violent criminals.

It's not hard to find Baltimore residents who are deeply skeptical about any assertions by politicians that there could be a speedy fix to Baltimore's crime problem.

Lanita Williams, a 29-year-old administrative assistant at a downtown law firm, believes Pugh has mostly done a good job during her first year as mayor. But she added, "it's going to take a whole lot more than a few weeks to make things different."


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