Pressure mounts for Baltimore City to solve homicides

BALTIMORE - Baltimore City resident Devin Cook loved the color green just as much as he loved lacrosse.

He loved it so much, he made sure his first car- a 1997 Nissan Maxima- matched his color choices.

“You could hear that car a mile away,” said his mother Rhonda Cook. “It had a lot of problems, but he loved it, he saved forever for it.”

Rhonda Cook sat with her family Wednesday afternoon, wearing a green bracelet with the saying “Devin smiles.”

They were meeting to discuss plans to start a scholarship fund in Devin’s honor.

Just three weeks ago Rhonda’s middle son died, after he was gun down while with a friend in Park Heights. The CCBC Catonsville lacrosse player had just finished playing a summer league game with his teammates less than two hours before he was killed.

RELATED: Learn how CCBC remembered Devin Cook.

He became the 119th homicide in Baltimore this year. He’s one of nearly 100 unsolved murder cases that remain unsolved in 2014. As of Aug. 22, there have been 137 homicides in the city in 2014.

As pressure mounts from public officials and community leaders to stop the violence , Baltimore City police believe a change in leadership might provide a new perspective on solving homicides.

Rhonda Cook is still hoping for closure. She is trying to move on one day at a time.

The last time she talked to police was the day of Devin’s funeral.

She prays not only for her son, but that all families affected by violence will find peace.

“The only way you can get through this is with support and forgiveness,” she said. “I pray those answers will come.”

According to Baltimore City Police, the number of solved homicides has continued to increase on a yearly basis.

Between 2011 and 2013, it went up 2 percent from 48 to 50.

Most police agencies use the Uniform Crime Reporting standard to determine their clearance rates. In Baltimore, if the homicide occurred in 1990, but was solved in 2014, it would be factored into the current year’s closure rate.

Despite the improvement, a rash of high profile homicide, including the August death of Waverly resident McKenzie Elliott , 3, and Michael Mayfield, 17, a JRROTC member and high school baseball player killed in April, have prompted police to make leadership changes in its homicide division.

RELATED:  Funeral, vigil set for murdered 3-year-old girl, McKenzie Elliot

Last week, safety officials reassigned Maj. Dennis Smith, who was overseeing both the homicide unit and the district detective unit. He was temporarily  replaced by Maj. Stanley Brandford, of the Eastern District.

Baltimore City Councilman Brandon Scott, supported the change and believe the police are making "significant progress" in solving crimes, especially homicides. However, he added there is always more work to be done.

He said it would provide a fresh perspective to bringing down the city’s murder rate, one he is happy to see improving.

“Obviously this move will take time,” said Scott, who is vice chair of the City Council's Public Safety Committee. “We have to be forward thinking to make sure city streets are safe. We need to find closure for families affected by violence.”

Baltimore City spokesperson Lt. Sarah Connelly said that when it comes to solving crimes, homicide detectives try not to focus on the number of cases, but the connection to the loved ones affected.

“They work night and day to investigate those cases,” she said.

Bill Johnson, executive director of National Association of Police Organizations, said that when it comes to high profile crimes, police are trained to hand the pressure associated with finding answers.

He added that with any jobs, police can make mistakes.

“ Police are aware that people want information and want it quickly,” he said.”The goal is to make sure it comes out efficiently and accurately.”

Johnson said the best way to alleviate pressures is the ensure police have a plan to share what they know effectively.

RELATED:  Parents wait for updates in recent city shootings. 

“You also have to be honest,” he said. “If you don’t know something, let that be known.”

Rhonda said she hopes the scholarship she is starting with her family will inspire city youth to get into lacrosse.

Devin Cook's grandmother, Lavinia Hines, said she still waits for her grandson to come pick her up for their weekly dates.

“He loved waffles, they were his thing,” she said. “He had standing dates with all many family members.”

She cries at the thought they aren’t going to happen anymore.

Friends and family members are currently working to create a scholarship in Devin Cook's name. For more information on the organization of that scholarship, email  shymainedavis@yahoo.com  .

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