Crime stats don't tell the whole story Baltimore County: Quarterly police reports must be viewed in context.

July 06, 1996

LOCAL POLICE departments release crime statistics every quarter that can spark fear and insecurity in the community if they are not properly understood.

This week, Baltimore County residents read that robberies rose 25 percent in the first quarter of 1996, a significant increase guaranteed to generate water-cooler commentary about how the county has gotten as bad the city and to make a few more folks think about moving further from the urban center. Taken in context, however, these figures paint a less frightening picture.

Judging by second quarter figures, the radical jump in robberies from the end of January through March was either an aberration or the start of a trend which police have since curtailed.

Crime often goes up and down with the weather, and that happened during the first quarter. Robberies dipped way below last year's average during the blizzard, then shot way above it immediately after. In early April, county police started a robbery task force. That week, the number of robberies plummeted to 10 percent below last year's average.

Since then, robberies have been consistently and considerably fewer than in 1995. The task force is slated to continue indefinitely and the number of robbery detectives will double from eight to 16 by the end of the summer, so there is reason to expect the robbery rate to continue to improve.

Still, there's no denying that Baltimore County has more crime than in the past. The city is more dangerous than it used to be and, as the jurisdiction closest to it, the county can't help but feel the effect of spillover crime.

But the threat of crime faced by countians does not compare with what their city neighbors confront. Baltimore County suffered 727 robberies during the first quarter of 1996; the city, which now has fewer people, had 2,693. There were 15 homicides in the county, most involving people who knew each other, compared with 70 people murdered in the city.

For most Baltimore County residents, the days of leaving the door unlocked ended a long time ago. Still, the perceived threat of crime is greater than the actual threat.

That's good news, despite what those first-quarter numbers show.

Pub Date: 7/06/96

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