Baltimore homicides top 300 for year, worst since 1999

Baltimore Surpasses 300 Homicides in 2015
Baltimore Surpasses 300 Homicides in 2015

(Reuters) -- Riot-scarred Baltimore recorded its 300th homicide of the year on Saturday, police said, up 42 percent from last year's total and its highest toll since 1999 with more than a month still to go in 2015.

There has been an upsurge in killings in some U.S. cities. In Baltimore, the number of homicides has surged since protests and rioting in April sparked by the death of a black man in police custody.

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The latest victim was a 27-year-old man who officers found stabbed on Saturday afternoon, police said in a statement. He died shortly after being taken to a hospital.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said the largely black city of about 620,000 people needed to come together to fight the violence.

%shareLinks-quote="The 300th homicide is no more tragic than the first homicide of 2015, or the 50th, or the 200th. Every victim leaves family, friends and a neighborhood who mourn their loss." type="quote" author="Stephanie Rawlings-Blake" authordesc="Baltimore Mayor" isquoteoftheday="false"%

Rawlings-Blake, who is the president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, said she and other leaders of the group would meet Attorney General Loretta Lynch on Monday to press for more federal help to fight spiking violence.

This year is the first time Baltimore's annual homicide toll has topped 300 since 1999, when 305 were recorded.

The surge in homicides started after the unrest sparked by the death of Freddie Gray, a black man, from a spinal injury in police custody. Six officers have been charged in the death.

Jeffrey Ian Ross, a criminologist at the University of Baltimore, said the illegal drug trade and easy access to handguns was likely behind the upsurge in homicides.

"It could be new people coming into the game and an increased need to demonstrate authority inside a gang," he said.

%shareLinks-quote="Police said in June that gang turf fights fueled by drugs looted from pharmacies were a cause of the increase." type="spreadWord"%

Baltimore is among a number of large U.S. cities with an upturn in homicides this year. They include Chicago, Washington, Milwaukee and Sacramento, California.

Big city U.S. police chiefs in August blamed repeat offenders, illicit drugs and guns with bigger magazines for part of the increase.

Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey last month said that murder rates were soaring in many cities partly because police were holding back from aggressive tactics, fearful of being video recorded and accused of brutality.

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