Serious crime increases 3rd year in a row More robberies and burglaries lead 4.9% rise for 1995

Overall, arrests up 10%

Similar trends likely to be reported for year statewide

February 29, 1996|By Ed Heard | Ed Heard,SUN STAFF

Led by a rise in robbery and burglary, the number of serious crimes in Howard County increased 4.9 percent last year -- though arrests in such cases dropped about 6 percent, according to 1995 statistics released by county police yesterday.

It was the third year in a row that the growing county has experienced a rise in what police categorize as serious crime -- a category consisting of homicide, rape, assault, burglary, robbery, theft and car theft.

And two of last year's most serious crimes -- the shooting of two employees at a Scan furniture store in Columbia's Owen Brown village last June and an armored car robbery outside a shopping center in Hickory Ridge village in August -- remain unsolved.

Offenses classified as less serious, including prostitution, increased 14 percent over 1994, and arrests for such offenses also increased. Arrests of all kinds rose about 10 percent last year, to 7,899.

Police officials, while arguing that they can do little about crime's underlying causes, say they are responding as best they can through initiatives such as community policing and crime prevention programs that draw on the help of citizens .

In a statement prepared for The Sun, police Chief James N. Robey, whose 339 officers serve a population of 222,804 people, said that police "can impact on an individual's opportunities to commit crimes."

He said, however, that there are "any number of social and environmental factors that affect the increase and the decrease in crimes," and that "it is extremely difficult for us to impact on these factors."

Bill Coyle, a resident of Simpsonville and a leading public safety advocate in Howard County, said the county could help decrease crime by spending more on law enforcement.

"We don't have enough police officers," said Mr. Coyle. "Police officers in uniform make a tremendous difference. Crime is inherent with growth in society. We're going to have to continue to grow public safety to keep up with it."

The increase in crime countywide appeared to reflect a statewide trend last year. Though state police have not yet released year-end statistics for 1995, the first nine months of last year were marked by an increase of violent crime statewide.

Howard residents responded by calling police more frequently in 1995 -- 99,469 calls for assistance, up 2.5 percent from the year before. "We're in the communities and encouraging people to report crimes," said Sgt. Steven Keller, a police spokesman.

And in many cases -- particularly those involving less serious crimes -- such calls led directly to arrests, he said.

For example, police made 1,237 arrests for violations of liquor laws last year, compared with 472 such arrests in 1994, an increase that Sergeant Keller attributed in large part to complaints about teen-age parties or underage liquor sales.

Complaints by business owners in the North Laurel area about prostitution led to a series of arrests after undercover operations in an industrial park off Whiskey Bottom Road in May 1995.

In all, the number of prostitution-related arrests rose to 34 in 1995, compared with three in 1994.

County police arrested 13 massage parlor employees in Laurel and Jessup last October, in a highly publicized sting operation criticized because officers engaged in sex acts.

There were four homicides last year. They included a murder-suicide involving a Columbia man and a former neighbor, and a robber shot by a Jessup pawn shop employee. Police said the pawn shop incident likely will be ruled as a justifiable shooting by the state's attorney.

Serious Howard County crimes

Offense .................. 1994 ........ 1995 ......... % change

Burglaries ............... 1,247 ....... 1,426 ........ 14.35%

Rapes .................... 31 .......... 32 ........... 3.23

Homicides ................ 4 ........... 4 ............ 0.0

Robberies ................ 147 ......... 209 .......... 42.18

Assaults ................. 395 ......... 363 .......... -8.1

Thefts ................... 5,823 ....... 6,106 ........ 4.86

Vehicle thefts ........... 1,155 ....... 1,077 ........ -6.75

Total serious crimes ..... 8,849 ....... 9,288 ........ 4.96%

Serious crime arrests .... 1,687 ....... 1,587 ........ -5.93%

Adult arrests ............ 1,001 ....... 969 .......... -3.19%

Juvenile arrests ......... 686 ......... 618 .......... -9.91%

SOURCE: Howard County Police Department, "Annual Statistics Uniform Crime Reporting 1995"

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