Crime in Baltimore County

December 02, 1992

A Baltimore County politician describes the jurisdiction' crime problem as a 5,000-pound gorilla.

People know it's out there. They know it has to be taken seriously. They fear it.

They just aren't sure what to do about it.

County residents are understandably concerned that area crime seems on the rise. Particularly when they learn about the more sensational recent crimes -- the double murders at the Randallstown bank and the Catonsville barber shop, the killing of a mall employee and the kidnapping of an off-duty police officer in Owings Mills -- many citizens must tell themselves, "I thought I lived out here to avoid this kind of stuff."

Nor can county residents take a lot of comfort from this statistic: The jurisdiction's homicide rate is at an all-time high of 38, with nearly a month left in the year.

If the reports from communities inside the Beltway increasingly resemble the news from beleaguered Baltimore City, it's because those areas are becoming more like the city, explains county police chief Cornelius Behan.

Within the county's urban pockets, the population is growing, malls and other popular gathering places are sprouting, public transportation has become more convenient and more extensive. All these are conditions that attract criminals and make their work easier.

Yet, while there's reason to worry, the chief admits, Baltimore County has nothing on the city, which recorded its 300th homicide of the year last week. Violent crime in the county did go up during the first nine months of 1992, but by less than 2 percent compared to the same period in 1991.

"Dramatic incidents don't mean there's a crime wave," Chief Behan says. "County folks need to keep all this activity in perspective."

Residents throughout the jurisdiction can do their bit to keep the 5,000-pound gorilla from putting on another ton or two. Chief Behan suggests they form citizen patrols and Neighborhood Watch groups, lock their doors, take their keys from their parked cars and practice other common-sense habits that discourage bad guys.

For his part, the chief will again ask the General Assembly for a statewide ban on assault weapons. In addition, he expects to plead once more with the county government to spare budget cuts for a police department already understaffed and overworked.

However, making such a pitch to county leaders could be a tall order with the economy remaining stagnant and public education still a higher priority among the citizenry than public safety.

That is, unless that gorilla gets much bigger.

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