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U.S. attorney secures 90 criminal indictments in Baltimore crackdown

U.S. Attorney Robert K. Hur, left, and Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison at a Thursday news conference to tout federal indictments of 90 people accused of drug and violent crimes in Baltimore. (The Daily Record/Adam Bednar)

U.S. Attorney Robert K. Hur, left, and Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison at a Thursday news conference to tout federal indictments of 90 people accused of drug and violent crimes in Baltimore. (The Daily Record/Adam Bednar)

U.S. Attorney Robert K. Hur stood in west Baltimore on Thursday, an area his boss, President Donald Trump, recently described as “disgusting” and “dangerous,” to tout 90 indictments related to drug dealing and gun violence in the city.

Law enforcement agencies seized 51 guns, kilograms of illegal drugs and nearly $1 million in cash, Hur said, during the course of four separate investigations. The U.S. attorney’s office so far this year has obtained 215 federal grand jury indictments in cases tied to Project Safe Neighborhood, its anti-violence strategy. The year before the program produced cases that resulted in 246 indictments.

“I’m personally focused on the violence. That’s job No. 1 (in Baltimore),” said Hur, who stood outside Union Baptist Church flanked by various law enforcement officials, including Baltimore’s Police Commissioner Michael Harrison.

The news conference highlighting recent successes targeting violent criminals is framed by Trump’s comments that aimed a national spotlight at Baltimore’s struggles with violent crime, which business leaders say hinders the local economy and the ability to attract investment.

Baltimore has struggled with violence and a reputation for lawlessness for decades. Previously business leaders and elected officials groused the city’s bad reputation, reinforced by the television series “The Wire,” did not reflect progress fighting crime.

Baltimore police in 2007 recorded nearly 63 incidents of Part 1 crimes — serious incidents ranging from homicide to car break-ins — per 1,000 residents. That figure fell to a recent low of 59.6 per 1,000 residents in 2009 and never reached higher than 63.6 for the next several years.

The number of violent crimes in 2007 hit 16.58 offenses per 1,000 residents. By 2014, however, that figure fell to 13.7. There were 197 homicides in 2011, which represented the lowest number since 1970. That low mark came on the heels of three straight years of declines in the number of homicides.

Then in April 2015 riots erupted in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray from injuries suffered in police custody. What had been a downward crime trend surged in the aftermath.

Reported violent crimes in 2015 and 2016 increased from the low mark in 2014 and reached a recent apex of 67 violent offenses per 1,000 residents in 2017.

In 2015 police recorded 342 homicides, 633 shootings, 3,133 street robberies, 883 commercial robberies. Three years later, in 2018, the city suffered 310 homicides, 678 shootings, 3,587 street robberies, and 914 commercial robberies.

This year crime in the city remains on pace to match or surpass those figures. Between the start of this year and July 27 Baltimore police reported 194 murders, according to the most recent data available. The department recorded 437 shootings, 1,774 street robberies and 433 commercial robberies during the same time period.

Since the riot, despite a continuing national trend of renewed interest in urban living and with cities like neighboring Washington growing in population, Baltimore’s population has dwindled. One recent estimate placed the number of residents as low as 600,000.

Some businesses and nonprofits operating downtown voiced concerns about the safety of their employees and said they didn’t feel secure outside their offices. A group of downtown business leaders formed a group last year called the Center City Coalition to lobby for more policing in the area.

Downtown Partnership President Kirby Fowler, during the organization’s annually meeting in late March, acknowledged crime’s impact on the area and urged a concerted effort from all stakeholders to deal with the issue.

In recent weeks city officials have started rolling out plans to reduce crime. Harrison, who took over the police department’s top job this spring, released his strategy for reducing crime last month.

A major part of that plan positions officers to suppress violence in “micro-targeted areas.” Roughly 33% of all gun-related incidents, according to the department’s analysis of its own data going back to 2015, happened in a few dozen locations across Baltimore.

City Council President Brandon M. Scott on Thursday released a series of proposed reforms. Those policy proposals include measures to address crime, such as restoring local control of the police department and requiring a comprehensive crime-fighting strategy. Scott also plans to oppose “tough on crime” legislation, such as a state proposal to increase mandatory minimums for violating guns laws.

Donald C. Fry, president and CEO of the business advocacy group the Greater Baltimore Committee, said following Scott’s speech on Thursday that he’s encouraged about the dialogue regarding crime fighting. He also urged patience and for residents and business owners to give Harrison’s strategy time.

“Crime problems in Baltimore are complex. They are not going to be resolved in one month,” Fry said.

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