Spring Fever or Crime Jitters? HOWARD COUNTY

April 15, 1993

This is usually the time of year when people's thoughts are on crocuses, romance and baseball. Spring fever, the condition is called.

Residents of this region, however, might be excused if their spring fever has lately been overtaken by a much less pleasant condition -- crime jitters. Consider some of the items recently crowding the news:

* The trial of one of the accused killers of carjack victim Dr. Pam Basu, with more than its share of details both heart-rending and stomach-turning.

* A concern about crime among residents of the Columbia community of Kings Contrivance.

* A purse-snatching committed while the victim was pumping gas on Little Patuxent Parkway.

* The recovery of the body of an apparent homicide victim from a Scaggsville reservoir.

* A drive-by shooting at a corner dice game in Baltimore, eerily echoing the shootings of a drive-by gunman who has terrorized northwest Washington neighborhoods for the past seven weeks.

To be sure, crime is still far worse in the big cities than in the suburbs. That may explain why suburbanites become so alarmed when local crime statistics take an upward blip or a relatively high number of violent crimes occur.

Howard County, especially its more urban eastern half, is hardly a stranger to the police blotter. But residents might take comfort from the latest figures reported by county police. In 1992, the number of "Part I" crimes (murder, rape, robbery, assault, burglary, theft and auto theft) was 2.2 percent lower than in 1991. "Part II" offenses (such as simple assault, fraud, vandalism and drug violations) decreased 4.8 percent over the same period.

The question might still be asked: Which is the aberration -- 1992's lower crime statistics or the recent rash of incidents cited above? Whatever the answer, the county is taking steps to beef up its police presence. A class of about 40 recruits will be on the streets later this year, and the police department has just opened its first community policing station at an Oakland Mills apartment complex troubled by drug trafficking.

Citizens can do their part by reporting crimes and taking simple measures to safeguard their property. Preventive steps can go a long way toward defeating criminals -- and jitters about crime.

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