Baltimore is on track to reverse its most deadly trend. If the current pace of fatal shootings holds, it would be the first year since 2018 that the homicide rate went down, not up, and the first year since 2014 with fewer than 300 people killed in the city.
The promising development comes despite a troubling and continuing rise in youth gun violence. The city is projected to end the year with 275 homicides, if trends continue, but a Baltimore Banner analysis found reasons to be cautious.
The decrease in homicides tracks with a national downward trend that is gaining notice from gun violence experts. But the lessening violence is not being felt evenly across the city, and there are recent years that started off on a promising trend before a surge of summer-fueled shootings brought the homicide numbers back up above 300.
The Banner analyzed gun violence trends using a seasonal model to forecast how many homicides the city might expect. It informed that model with data from the last seven years. The result: The number of people killed each month has been lower than the forecast, but still within the expected range. That means the first five months of 2023 are not major outliers.
The Banner made its year-end prediction by continuing the 2023 trend for the rest of the year. If homicides stay about 17% less than the forecast, Baltimore would end the year with 275 homicides. If homicides reverted to the forecast for the rest of the year, the total would be 308.
In order to maintain some of the improvements in the homicide rate, Baltimore officials will need to tamp down gun violence in parts of the city that are currently experiencing flares. As one example, the Northeastern District’s trend toward more homicides has continued into 2023, where 23 people have been killed, up 28% from last year.
Mike Hilliard, a retired Baltimore Police Department major who later worked in community services in the Northeastern District, said he hasn’t followed gun violence data lately, but noted that flare-ups of shootings in certain parts of the city tend to be cyclical.
“Often, it has to do with what’s going on with the drug trade on the street,” Hilliard said.
Those dynamics can include territorial disputes or even internal power struggles that can erupt into a series of shootings, Hilliard said.
Homicides have decreased marginally in the Eastern District and increased marginally in the Western District. But the uptick in the Western has garnered more attention due to its being the starting point of the latest iteration of Group Violence Reduction Strategy — a distinction that means it has received more attention from police and social workers.
Last year, the Western District saw a 33% drop after the strategy was implemented. So far this year, there have been 18 homicides in the district, compared to 16 homicides last year.
Still, aside from 2022, the number of homicides in the Western District is the lowest it has been at this point in any year since 2015, matching the 2018 total. Notably, homicides are down in the Southwestern District, too, where the strategy was expanded starting this year.
At a City Council police budget hearing last week, then-Deputy Police Commissioner Rich Worley, who has since been tapped as interim commissioner, said that while the Western District “lost a little ground” in the beginning of the year, he believed it would rebound and bring homicide numbers back down.
“We’re working with our partners in [the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement] MONSE, the state’s attorney’s office, and I think the Western will bounce back,” Worley said.
Learn more about our analysis and reproduce our findings by visiting our GitHub page.