With 38 murders so far in May, the city of Baltimore has reached its deadliest month in nearly 20 years. But as one former city cop points out, violent crime is actually much worse when population levels are taken into account.
Charm City’s 38 murders is a threshold that the city hasn’t reached since Aug. 1996, when 39 people were killed. The three other most deadly months are August 1990, December 1971 and August 1972, which saw 42, 44 and 45 killings, respectively.
But as former Baltimore police officer and author Peter Moskos points out at his blog “Cop in the City,” those figures are misleading and indicate that the problem of violence in the city is even worse than the headlines indicate. And there are still two weekend days left in the month.
Baltimore is one of many cities that has experienced a drastic population decline in recent decades. While nearly 1 million people lived in Baltimore city proper in the 1950s, residents have left in droves since then.
The most recent census estimate puts the number of residents at just over 622,000.
That translates into a homicide rate of 6.1 per 100,000 residents for the month of May.
Next highest on that metric are August 1990, August 1996, August 1972, and December 1971 which had a rate of 5.7, 5.7, 5.0, and 4.8 homicides per 100,000, respectively.
In the early 1970s, Baltimore had just over 900,000 residents, according to the Census. By 1990, the number living there had fallen to 736,000 and had declined to 688,000 by 1996.
It is not entirely clear why crime has spiked in Baltimore this month, but most observers point to the Freddie Gray case as a major catalyst. Gray was arrested on April 12 after a foot chase with police. He was placed into a transport van where he sustained a spinal injury. He died a week later.
The six officers involved in his arrest and transport have been charged with a total of 28 felonies, including a second-degree murder charge and several manslaughter charges.
Some within the police department have come forward to claim that crime is now rampant because police officers are hesitant to do their jobs. Some are afraid of being attacked while others are concerned that they will be arrested for doing their jobs. That has led to a stark decline in overall arrests. Prior to Gray’s death, an average of 626 arrests occurred each week. That number has fallen to well below 400 per week.