Balto. Co. robberies increase 25 percent rise seen in 1st quarter of '96

merchants targeted

July 02, 1996|By Kris Antonelli | Kris Antonelli,SUN STAFF

Robberies in Baltimore County increased by almost 25 percent during the first three months of the year, reflecting the seriousness of the problem that prompted police to form a task force focusing on holdups.

There were 727 robberies -- with businesses the primary target -- from January through March, compared with 583 during the same time last year, according to police statistics released yesterday.

But police officials, who instituted patrols in Towson in February and other sections in March targeting high-crime areas, say the number of people charged with robbery also has increased, from 132 in the first quarter of 1995 to 183 this year.

Complete figures for the second quarter that could better measure the success of the task force were not available, but Police Chief Terrence B. Sheridan said robberies seem to have declined since March. The second quarter ended Sunday.

"I think our clearance rate is getting better, and our police officers are becoming more attuned to the problem," he said. "And they are getting more aggressive about making arrests."

The idea of the countywide robbery task force was to free its members from routine duties to focus on stopping and questioning suspicious people, enforcing traffic laws and pursuing investigative leads. Its 88 officers -- drawn from the nine precincts, traffic, tactical and police dog units -- also work with community groups and merchants to solve other crime problems in areas where robberies have been commonplace.

In Woodlawn Precinct, where armed robberies jumped from 100 to 142 in the first-quarter comparison, Maj. Dennis M. Robinson traced a seesaw pattern that dipped during the January blizzard, soared in February and dropped from March to June -- a period in which the task force began high-visibility patrols along Liberty and Reisterstown roads and U.S. 40 West.

He cited as an example Liberty Road, where 24 robberies were reported in February. In March, with the task force at work, the number fell to 11 -- and in June, he said, seven were reported.

"I am not pleased about the robbery rates," Robinson said. "But I am not going to panic about it yet. If it starts going back up again, then we will have to come up with a reaction to it."

Robinson noted that the task force at Woodlawn started with 16 officers, but has been halved in recent months as members were given other assignments.

The chief noted that the county expected to have eight more robbery detectives by the end of this month to beef up investigative work. Sheridan said leads in robbery cases need to be pursued quickly because of repeated crimes by the same bandits.

Typically, Sheridan said, one or two criminals are responsible for several robberies in an area. At 8: 30 p.m. Wednesday, for example, two men robbed an 80-year-old woman at gunpoint in Perring Parkway Shopping Center on Cleanleigh Drive. A half-hour later, the same men robbed a 49-year-old woman in the parking garage at Towson Town Center.

"So generally speaking, these are one- or two-people crime waves," Sheridan said. "Rarely does someone just rob a store once and then never do it again -- unless they get caught before they do it again."

While robberies continue to be the county's biggest problem, juvenile crime also was cited, with those younger than 18 making up about 35 percent of all police arrests for serious crime. Sheridan said he is putting together a committee of police officers to study juvenile crime.

Overall, the county said crime increased by "a moderate" 4.7 percent in the first quarter, but violent crime was up by 12.8 percent.

Categories that showed increases, in addition to robbery, were homicide, rising from nine last year to 15; aggravated assault, up from 1,124 to 1,209; and theft, up from 5,845 to 5,919.

Declines were noted in rape, from 72 to 66; vehicle theft, from 1,315 to 1,256; burglary, from 1,538 to 1,449; and arson, from 85 to 72.

Sheridan said the department will hire 42 police officers over the next 12 months, an increase in staffing with federal funding that will be used to form squads dealing with specific crime problems. Twenty-three detectives will be added to the Criminal Investigative Bureau, including the eight for robbery work, he said.

Pub Date: 7/02/96

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