Baltimore City in Maryland attained the unenviable title of being the Murder Capital of the US in 2017 after figures showed that it had the highest per-capita homicide rate in the entire country, Fox News reported.

In 2017, The City recorded 343 homicides, an all-time high, which translated to 56 murders per 100,000 people. This is despite a drop in the city's population over the years, from over 700,000 inhabitants a decade ago to its current 615,000.

Baltimore residents and experts are divided on the reasons for the sudden upsurge in homicides in the city, with some blaming the police for laxity, while others point their finger at the wide economic gap found among the population.

Others are of the view the increase in illegal guns is to blame.

Various contributing factors

Those that blame economic factors as the reason behind the increase in homicides cite the visible economic gap and disparities between residents of the more affluent parts of the city, such as Mount Vernon and Canton, compared to poverty-stricken, neighborhoods.

The latter, which form the majority of the city and spells out the lack of equal economic opportunities available to the city's residents. The economic factor hence contributed to the increase in illegal guns, system failures, the opioid epidemic and the increase in homicide cases, especially among the poor residents of Baltimore.

A demoralized police force

According to Professor of public policy, Donald Norris, of Maryland University, it is the public's perception that the police took a hands-off approach in aggressively fighting crime especially in the poor neighborhoods of Baltimore.

This can be traced to 2015 when homicide cases began an upward spiral.

It was also in this year that six police officers were charged with the death of Freddie Gray, who succumbed to a spinal injury he suffered while in police custody.

The incident caused massive violent protests, the worst in the city's history, and the homicide cases that year hit 340. There has been a steady rise in the number of murders since then.

Police, on the other hand, dispute that they have gone soft on fighting crime, and attribute the murder increase to gangs, drugs, and illegal guns. The officers observed that they work extremely hard, in a very tough environment. This is despite figures showing arrests being at their lowest levels.

In an interview with AP, Mayor Katherine Pugh said her administration would focus on reducing the homicide rate by increasing police numbers, reducing crime and improving living standards in the poor neighborhoods. She also promised to transform Baltimore into the safest city in the US.