Crime in Maryland drops by 7%, state police report Largest decreases seen in murder, vehicle theft

January 15, 1998|By Dail Willis | Dail Willis,SUN STAFF

Crime in Maryland dropped by 7 percent, according to preliminary figures for the first nine months of 1997 -- a trend driven by significant declines in Baltimore and Washington.

But the news was not so good in some regions. On the Eastern Shore, and in Southern and Western Maryland, crime increased significantly in several categories. No single cause was apparent, but officials said growth in those areas was a factor.

Where crime declined, law enforcement officials and experts pointed to community policing, information sharing and efforts aimed at high-crime areas.

"You have these concerted law-enforcement efforts in the neighborhoods where crime is high," said Faye Taxman, professor of criminology at the University of Maryland, College Park. "I think you're starting to see some impact there."

Statewide, murder declined 16 percent in the first nine months of 1997, as did motor vehicle theft -- the two largest decreases among the seven categories of crime surveyed by the Maryland State Police. Robbery declined 14 percent.

The increase in rural areas is harder to explain, Taxman said. But she pointed to population growth in areas such as the Eastern Shore as one factor and noted that the state's rural areas have become increasingly suburban.

"We've become a very homogenous society. The problems we used to find in urban areas are everywhere now," she said.

Police and state officials offered similar explanations of the overall decline. "I think there's a number of things driving it down," said Col. David B. Mitchell, who heads the state police. "In a nutshell, it's police and communities working together."

Mitchell said community policing and a better flow of information among law enforcement agencies also helped drive down crime.

The increases in rural areas were troubling, he said, adding that the state police planned to increase its presence in rural areas.

Of the 61 state troopers who graduated from the academy this month, more than half will be assigned to the Eastern Shore and Southern and Western Maryland.

The report tallies numbers for murder, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault, breaking and entering, larceny-theft and motor vehicle theft.

In the Baltimore area, murder declined by 15 percent. From January through September in 1997, 262 murders were reported, compared with 308 for the same period in 1996.

In Washington's Maryland suburbs, the decline in murder was even sharper: 29 percent. There were 77 murders reported for the nine-month period in 1997, down from 108 for that period in 1996.

Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend pointed to tougher laws on gun control and juvenile justice, and better enforcement of parole and probation by Maryland. But, like Mitchell, she acknowledged concern about the rise in rural areas.

In Southern Maryland, for example, crime rose in four of the seven categories: 3 percent for forcible rape, 24 percent for robbery, 0.1 percent for aggravated assault and 4 percent for larceny-theft.

On the Eastern Shore, crime rose in three of the seven categories. There were 15 murders in the first nine months of 1997, compared with 13 for the same period in 1996 -- a 15 percent increase. Rape was the crime that increased most: from 82 in 1996 to 114 in 1997, a jump of 39 percent. Robberies increased slightly.

In Western Maryland, the number of murders doubled -- from six in the first nine months of 1996 to 12 in the same period in 1997. Rape was up 8 percent, robbery rose 2 percent, breaking and entering rose 7 percent and motor vehicle theft rose by 14 percent.

Townsend said some Western Maryland counties face an increasing problem as drug gangs come in from New York and commit crimes -- an issue triggering concern. She said the region's residents "are much more focused on crime than they have been."

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Maryland crime trends

Offenses .. .. .. .. .. ..Jan.-Sept. '96 .. ..Jan.-Sept. '97 .. ..% change

Murder .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ...446 .. .. .. .. .. .373 .. .. ....-16

Forcible rape .. .. .. .. .. .. ...1,490 .. .. .. .. ..1,354 .. .. .. ..-9

Robbery .. .. .. ... .. .. .. ...14,723 .. .. .. .. .12,617 .. .. .. .-14

Aggravated assault .. .. .. .. ...18,977 .. .. .. .. .18,308 .. .. .. ..-4

Breaking and entering .. .. .. ...37,660 .. .. .. .. .35,369 .. .. .. ..-6

Larceny-theft .. .. .. .. .. .. .132,024 .. .. .. ...125,216 .. .. .. ..-5

Motor vehicle theft .. .. .. .. ..27,624 .. .. .. .. .23,237 .. .. .. .-16

TOTAL .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ...232,944 .. .. .. ...216,474 .. .. .. ..-7

SOURCE: Maryland State Police

Pub Date: 1/15/98

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