Baltimore finished last year with 263 homicides, recording fewer than 300 killings for the first time in nearly a decade and marking the largest year-over-year drop since at least the 1970s.

Baltimore leaders have sought for nearly a decade to bring the city below 300 annual homicides, the grim benchmark that has defined the city’s epidemic of gun violence since Freddie Gray’s 2015 death. Homicides erupted past 300 in 2015, in the wake of unrest following Gray’s death from injuries sustained while in police custody, and had hovered above that marker every year since, totaling 329 in 2022.

The end-of-year total for 2023 marks about a 20% drop from the year before. Nonfatal shootings, meanwhile, saw a more moderate decline of about 7%.

Cities across the country — including Detroit, St. Louis, Philadelphia and New Orleans — have all seen significant reductions in gun violence over the last year. The stark drop in Baltimore, though, has given city leaders a chance to claim credit for the progress.

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A young boy holds a candle as he listens to the names of homicide victims read aloud.

Mayor Brandon Scott hosted a vigil for the homicide victims of 2023 on January 3, 2024. The names of the victims were read aloud to a crowd of people holding candles at the War Memorial Plaza in front of City Hall.
A young boy holds a candle as he listens to the names of homicide victims read aloud. Mayor Brandon Scott hosted a vigil for the homicide victims of 2023. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)

At City Hall Wednesday, Mayor Brandon Scott stood alongside Police Commissioner Richard Worley, City Council members, representatives from anti-violence nonprofits and orange-jacketed workers from Safe Streets, the city’s flagship violence intervention program, to tout the last 12 months’ decline.

“I knew deep in my heart that we needed to do something different. And so we did something different,” said Scott, pointing to his administration’s investments in public health and nonpolicing approaches to violent crime, in addition to more traditional law enforcement tactics. As part of his comprehensive violence prevention plan, released in 2021, Scott pledged to reduce gun violence by 15% each year. While it took some time to achieve that goal for the first time, the mayor acknowledged, “we are finally seeing those efforts paying off and saving lives.”

The end-of-year total for 2023 marks the fewest homicides Baltimore has recorded since the 211 in 2014, though its homicide rate remains among the highest in the nation. It’s also similar to the city’s homicide rate of the 1990s, when the city’s population was larger and the last time killings consistently topped 300 a year.

Scott and other officials stressed Wednesday that one homicide is too many and said they aren’t celebrating the last year’s drop. Their task now must be to drive violence down even further over the next year, officials said.

The first-term Democrat faces a competitive challenge in May’s primary election from former Mayor Sheila Dixon, who has often struck a tough-on-crime message in her campaign, and he appealed Wednesday for the chance to keep building on the investments his administration has made so far.

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“Now is not the time to allow those with personal agendas to take us back to the old, broken ways of the past,” Scott said.

The more than 260 homicides Baltimore recorded last year are individual lives, not just statistics, added City Council President Nick Mosby, who argued that if leaders continue to invest in young residents and focus on systemic drivers of violence, not just law enforcement responses, the city will see a sustained reduction in shooting deaths a year from now.

“That must be the charge, and it must be the goal,” he said.

Mayor Brandon Scott hosted a vigil for the homicide victims of 2023 on January 3, 2024. The names of the victims were read aloud to a crowd of people holding candles at the War Memorial Plaza in front of City Hall.
Mayor Brandon Scott hosted a vigil for the homicide victims of 2023 on January 3, 2024. The names of the victims were read aloud to a crowd of people holding candles at the War Memorial Plaza in front of City Hall. (Kaitlin Newman/The Baltimore Banner)

Adam Willis covers city government for The Banner, including the impacts of the large COVID-19 stimulus package that Baltimore received from the federal government.

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