Howard County's crime rate in auto thefts, robberies and assaults isgrowing dramatically faster than state increases.
In the first six months of 1991, all crime increased 8.6 percent in the county, withviolent crimes -- murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault -- increasing 11.6 percent, police said.
"Our population has been steadily growing and we expect to have more problems," said Sgt. Gary L. Gardner, a county police spokesman.
"Plus, rising crime is something we're seeing all over the state. It's not just a local problem."
Crime in Maryland rose 9 percent for the first six months of the year, according to figures from the Maryland State Police crime reporting division.
But auto thefts statewide increased only 8 percent, compared to a 33 percent increase in Howard County, where auto thefts rose from 426 to 565.
Robbery in Howard County increased 60 percent, from 35 reported incidents in thefirst half of 1990 to 56 during the same period this year. Statewide, robberies increased 17 percent.
Assaults rose 19.8 percent, from903 reported incidents to 1,082. The figure for Maryland decreased 7percent.
Six homicides were reported through June and two occurred in July, bringing the figure to eight so far in 1991.
The county's worst-ever year for murders was nine in 1989.
The sharp increase in local robberies and auto thefts, Gardner said, "may have something to do with the poor economy and the perceived affluence of the county. But there's no way we can tell for sure. I don't think crime canever be explained by one answer."
Auto theft problems have alwaysplagued county residents, particularly those who live in the myriad of luxury apartment complexes here.
The developments often containlarge parking lots that police say are easy picking for auto thieves.
Earlier this year, the department assigned its first full-time auto theft detective to look into the problem. But little can be done to curb the escalating thefts unless car owners take extra precautions, said the detective, John A. Newnan.
"Car thieves will rarely steal cars with protection," said Newnan. He said most of the stolen vehicles are recovered in Baltimore within a few days of the thefts. "Usually, the people who take them are joy-riders, and they don't want to bother with extra work."
Most of the joy riders are juveniles with a taste for burglary, Newnan said. Often, the youths will burglarize a residence and escape back to the nearby city with a stolen car,he said.
Reported burglaries decreased 6.6 percent in the first six months of 1991, from 720 to 672, county police said. Attempted burglaries were up, from 103 incidents to 125.
Eleven rapes were reported, compared to 12 for the same time period last year. Five attempted rapes have also been reported,
compared to three in the first half of 1990.
Police said most Howard County crime occurs in the unincorporated city of Columbia, which houses about 75,000 people in anarea the size of Manhattan.
Earlier this year, the Columbia Forumappointed a committee that examined incorporating the city. Among many issues considered was whether the city should have its own police force.
But Morris Keeton, president of the forum, said it is extremely doubtful that the city would ever opt for creation of a separatepolice force.