Violent crime falls in Maryland Overall incidents off sharply in Baltimore, but up in rural areas

'We are not satisfied'

Police encouraged as they prepare to target hot spots

March 19, 1997|By Kris Antonelli | Kris Antonelli,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Peter Hermann contributed to this article.

As law enforcement officials from around the state met in Baltimore yesterday to discuss anti-crime efforts, Maryland State Police issued an annual report showing that crime -- especially violent crime -- dropped statewide in 1996.

Murder, rape, robbery and serious assault declined 5 percent, and overall crime dropped 3 percent compared with 1995, according to the annual report.

But while overall crime dropped 5.1 percent in the Baltimore metropolitan region and 1.2 percent in the Washington region, it rose on the Eastern Shore and in Western Maryland, including Carroll County.

Law enforcement officials were generally encouraged by the statewide picture.

"Crime is down because over the last two years we are working diligently to get it down through specific programs that target problems across the state," said Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, in Baltimore to discuss the new federally funded "Maryland Hot Spot Communities -- Reclaiming our Neighborhoods" program.

That program relies on additional police officers and community and government involvement to stop crime.

According to the statistics released yesterday, overall crime -- murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, theft and car theft -- dropped 9.3 percent in Baltimore City last year compared with 1995. And in Baltimore County, while overall crime rose 2.5 percent last year, most types of violent crime declined.

But the level of crime increased somewhat in other suburban and rural jurisdictions.

For example, crime in Allegany County rose 8.2 percent, and St. Mary's County recorded an 11.4 percent jump in crime last year compared with 1995.

In mostly rural Caroline County, the number of overall crimes rose from 804 in 1995 to 1,022 in 1996 -- or 27.1 percent. The largest increases were reported in theft and burglary.

Other counties -- such as Anne Arundel, Calvert, Carroll, Dorchester, Frederick, Harford, Queen Anne's, Somerset, Washington and Wicomico -- also had increases in overall crime.

"That's why we still need this," Townsend said of the hot spots program. "While overall crime is down, we are not satisfied with that."

Baltimore Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier said yesterday that he was pleased with the drop in violent crime, but remains concerned that homicides still rose -- 331 in 1996, compared with 325 the year before.

That increase was despite a reduction in the number of shootings. The disparity prompted a recent study that showed victims are more often being shot in the head and from closer range.

Still, he said, "Everybody in town ought be happy that crime is down. Clearly, last year our strategy was guns and gun violence. That is part of this year's strategy, too."

Frazier, who has been criticized for not implementing New York-style zero-tolerance policing, said the city is benefiting from initiatives that put desk-bound officers on the street and target small mobile drug organizations.

The city also is working on an agreement with state police to participate in the hot spots program that would pair troopers with city officers in targeted areas.

St. Mary's County Sheriff Richard J. Voorhaar, who attended yesterday's presentation, said his jurisdiction has to deal with problems ranging from drug trafficking to traffic fatalities.

"We have had massive growth there, and while we already have two officers working a community policing program, they can't do it alone," he said.

State Police Superintendent Col. David B. Mitchell said while it is unrealistic to expect crime to vanish, it is possible to have success with hot spots programs as well as community involvement.

"Without community support and involvement, we are just going to be spinning our wheels," he said. "Part of the reason crime is down now is that there are more partnerships in law enforcement and with communities."

The hot spot program builds on a state police initiative begun in 1993 called "Operation People," in which 30 troopers patrolled Newtowne 20 and Woodside Gardens, drug-infested neighborhoods in Annapolis. Less than two weeks after police ended their round-the-clock patrols a month later, residents complained that drug dealers had returned.

Thirty-six hot spots will be chosen -- state officials would like to see at least one in each of the state's 24 jurisdictions -- and each will get $35,000 to $200,000 in federal grants each year until 2000.

U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, who spoke at yesterday's conference, said she supports such a program, which she believes has the elements needed to stop crime.

"This is the first time I have seen a truly comprehensive state effort like this," she said.

The program will follow up on the progress of serious criminals after they have been released from jail.

"It makes no sense to release a young armed robber, after he has served several years in prison, back to the same community where he got into trouble in the first place without his GED or any other skills that will help him," Reno said.

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