updated 1/21/2005 2:33:54 PM ET 2005-01-21T19:33:54

Twenty-six people have been slain in Baltimore in the first 21 days of the year, prompting a shake-up in the Police Department.

Acting Police Commissioner Leonard Hamm said Thursday that the department will increase patrols in the bloodiest neighborhoods and that three police commanders, including the deputy commissioner, will be moved to other positions.

Five people were killed on Thursday alone, and the 26 victims so far this month surpass the 23 for all of January 2004. Most of the killings were drug-related, police said.

Hamm said police pressure on the drug trade has cut into its profits, and as a result, dealers are using violence more often to collect debts.

While murders dropped in many big cities last year, the rate rose in Baltimore. Last year, the city had 278 homicides, or about 23 a month on average.

“The drug trade is a vicious cycle of tit-for-tat killings. I wish I knew a quicker way to put an end to it,” Mayor Martin O’Malley said.

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