White-collar, juvenile crimes jump Violent offenses rose slightly in '96, statistics show

Criminals go hi-tech

Officials say arrests of youths under 18 soar 15.6% over 1995

February 25, 1997|By Jill Hudson | Jill Hudson,SUN STAFF

While violent crime in Howard County showed only a slight increase last year, the number of juvenile and white-collar crimes shot up 1996, according to annual crime statistics released by county police yesterday.

Violent crimes, defined as murder, rape and robbery, rose sharply in the first half of 1996 -- 77 percent above the same period in 1995 -- but the rate of increase slowed drastically in the second half of year.

Final statistics show an increase of 2.3 percent, a rise of only 14 incidents -- from 608 in 1995 to 622 in 1996.

But the story was different for juveniles. Arrests of those under 18 rose by 15.6 percent in 1996, continuing what law enforcement officials say has been the trend for the past couple of years.

And the new wave of technology that has invaded affluent areas like Howard County has brought with it a new wave of crime -- traditional white-collar crimes like counterfeiting and forgery, embezzlement and fraud replaced by cell-phone cloning operations and Internet child pornography distribution.

In one high profile example last October, Howard County police charged two Ellicott City men -- one a Baltimore police officer -- with possessing child pornography obtained via the Internet.

Howard County State's Attorney Marna McLendon said yesterday that computers and technology have made crimes like cell-phone cloning with laptop computers and money counterfeiting with color photocopiers more accessible.

"White-collar crime is the wave of the future," McLendon said.

"These criminals have been given every advantage in life," she said, comparing them to many of the criminals she deals with who are motivated by poverty.

Computer-assisted crime can be "very, very lucrative," she said.

"These people are just plain greedy."

County police spokesman Sgt. Steven Keller pointed out that the higher rate of white-collar crime does not necessarily mean more people are involved.

"These days, counterfeiting and forgery aren't what you'd expect," he said, when asked about the 202 percent increase in the crimes of counterfeiting and forgery between 1995 and 1996.

"One person could steal 25 cellular phones and clone them all," he said. "That's 25 separate charges [in those categories] in one shot."

The proliferation of electronic goods also affected property crimes like burglary and theft. Overall, the numbers of those crimes were down by 0.2 percent, but personal property stolen from vehicles -- especially portable electronic items such as laptop computers, compact disc players and cellular telephones rose by 37 percent.

The other major increase came in the number of juveniles arrested for violent crimes in 1996 -- up by 20 percent from 618 in 1995 to 741 last year. Juvenile arrests for property crimes also increased, by almost 14 percent.

Keller said that although the number of incidents of violent crime being committed by juveniles is still relatively low, the county may have a huge -- and ever-increasing -- problem on its hands.

Susan Leviton, founder of Advocates for Children and Youth and an assistant professor at the University of Maryland Law School, said the problem may not be so much that the juvenile arrest rate for violent crimes is increasing, but that these crimes are being committed by younger and younger children.

"We have tried, but we haven't been successful in controlling the availability of firearms in the state and the county," Leviton said, indicating that the problems that have affected urban areas are spreading into suburbs like Howard County.

"We're also talking about violent homes, terrible substance abuse and teen parenting," she said.

"We have a juvenile justice system that's too overloaded and lets kids slip through the cracks."

The county's rate for violent crimes last year was 274 for every 100,000 people, virtually unchanged from 1995, when the rate was 273.

That is well below the latest statistics available for Maryland's 1995 rate of 987. But the county's 1996 rate for property crimes -- 3,674 per 100,000 people -- is much closer statistically to the state's 1995 number of 5,307.

Police officials said the surge in violent crimes in Howard County began to ebb during the third quarter of 1996, thanks in part to efforts like a 10-week robbery suppression program, which added patrols during the summer that targeted street crimes in Columbia.

The statistics do show a 67 percent increase in homicides, but that represented five murders, compared with three in 1995.

Only one of last year's homicides -- the death of a Wilde Lake man who fell down the stairs of a Long Reach apartment building after a heated argument with another man -- remains unsolved.

Serious Howard County crimes

Offense .. .. .. .. .. .. 1995 .. .. .. 1996 ... ... ... ... % change

Burglaries .. .. .. .. .. 1,426 ... ... 1,278 .. .. .. .. .. -10%

Rapes .. .. .. .. ... ... 32 .. ... ... 33 .. .. .. .. .. .. 3%

Homicides . .. .. ... ... 3 ... ... ... 5 .. .. .. ... .. .. 67%

Robberies . .. .. ... ... 210 .. .. ... 248 .. .. .. ... ... 18%

Assaults .. .. .. ... ... 363 .. .. ... 336 .. .. .. ... ... -7%

Thefts .... .. .. ... ... 6,106 ... ... 6,297 .. .. .. .. .. 3%

Vehicle thefts .. ... ... 841 .. .. ... 781 .. .. .. ... ... -7%

Total serious crimes .... 8,981 ... ... 8,978 .. ... ... ... 0%

Serious-crime arrests ... 7,899 ... ... 8,195 .. .. .. .. .. 0.04%

Adult arrests ... ... ... 5,893 ... ... 5,866 .. .. .. .. .. -0.46%

Juvenile arrests .... ... 2,006 ... ... 2,319 .. .. .. .. .. 16%

SOURCE: Howard County Police Department, "Annual Crime Report"

Pub Date: 2/25/97

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