Violent crime dips sharply during 1997 But statistics show assaults by youths, property crimes rise

Data from first 9 months

Police credit drop in robberies to focused programs

November 20, 1997|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

Violent crime is showing a sharp drop in Howard County this year, even though assaults by youths are skyrocketing, according to statistics released yesterday.

Property crimes increased significantly, especially burglaries in western Howard and west Columbia.

Police attributed the drop in violent offenses, which include robberies and aggravated assaults, to more targeted crime-fighting, including the recent designation of Long Reach as a crime "hot spot."

"The decrease was the result of enforcement, making the public more aware of dangers," said Sgt. Steven E. Keller, spokesman for Howard County police. "It was through community policing [and] the robbery-abatement program."

The statistics released yesterday covered the first nine months of this year and are compared with the same period last year.

Robberies plummeted 25 percent, from 203 to 152. Aggravated assaults also dropped, falling 12.7 percent, from 267 to 233.

In east Columbia, where police instituted several programs, robberies dropped from 52 to 41 this year.

In Columbia's Long Reach village, plainclothes officers patrol the streets four nights a week and make arrests for minor offenses. That effort grew out of a similar program in Oakland Mills village that many consider successful.

Keller said those programs would continue.

Residents said they noticed a difference in their neighborhoods.

"There's a general feeling out here that overall crime has decreased," said Henry F. Dagenais, chairman of the Long Reach Village Board. "We should continue those programs, let them move through to fruition."

John J. Snyder, vice chairman of the Long Reach board, said the drop in violent crime probably was part of a larger, nationwide trend, but he said he felt the recent police efforts probably contributed.

"It's a problem with many parts, and a solution comes in many parts," Snyder said. "I think the programs have helped. I drive around the village and see that people are more comfortable. They have a perception the area is safer."

But the overall drop in violent crime masked a problem: The number of juveniles arrested for aggravated assault in Howard County increased 137 percent, with most of those incidents occurring near schools or village centers, officials said.

That increase, from 52 assaults in the first nine months of 1996 to 123 this year, flies in the face of a nationwide trend of decreasing juvenile crime, according to federal data.

In 1996, for every 100,000 youths ages 10 to 17, there were 465 arrests for violent crimes, down from 512 in 1995 and 527 in the peak year of 1994, FBI figures showed.

One local official noted a growing "gang mentality" in area schools as well as increased violence outside schools. Last month, several youths were charged with severely beating a fellow student at Long Reach High School, breaking his jaw.

"It's a gang mentality, a boldness and power in numbers," said William Tucker, supervisor of the juvenile division of the Howard County state's attorney's office.

"This is across the board. It's happening everywhere, serious assaults. During the last six to eight weeks, I've seen three or four kids with their jaws broken."

Despite the increase in juvenile offenses, Howard is still one of the safest counties in the area, with a violent crime rate during the first nine months of this year of 181 offenses per 100,000 people.

Maryland posted a violent crime rate of 931 per 100,000 people during 1996.

Burglaries in the county increased 17.8 percent, from 956 to 1,126, with the largest jumps occurring in west Columbia and western Howard.

Glenwood resident John Myers, 59, represents one of an increasing number of western county residents who have had items stolen from unlocked garages. An $1,100 road bike was taken from his garage during an early November weekend when he and his wife went out of town.

Myers said he was having new locks installed on his doors and garage.

"I left it unlocked," Myers said. "Someone just took it off the hooks. Didn't take the other bikes."

Keller said police were considering more options to fight burglaries, but he declined to comment on tactics, saying he didn't want to jeopardize investigations. For now, the department will continue to push public awareness of the recent spate of thefts.

"An open garage door is just an invitation for someone looking to steal," Keller said. "People need to lock up their doors, take precautions."

Pub Date: 11/20/97

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