Violent crime rises 45% in first quarter

Robberies lead way, increasing 86.5% compared with 1998

`It's under control'

Police say steps are being taken to reduce problem

May 07, 1999|By Nancy A. Youssef | Nancy A. Youssef,SUN STAFF

Violent crime in Howard County increased 45 percent the first three months of this year, led by an 86.5 percent surge in robberies, according to county police figures released yesterday.

The increases -- measured against crimes committed in the same period last year -- have raised concerns in the community. Yesterday, County Executive James N. Robey termed the number of robberies "unacceptable."

The quarterly figures are surprising because serious crime declined from 1997 to last year in Howard County and in most areas of Maryland.

Howard County police said they have taken steps to reduce the problem. They cautioned against drawing conclusions from the numbers and characterized the robbery increase as a short-term problem.

"It's unusual, but it's under control," said police Chief Wayne Livesay. "We shouldn't be gauged on a three-month spike."

Four or five groups are committing many of the crimes, police believe. They hope a five-member robbery task force created April 1 will produce results.

"Our crime stats are so low that we could have [one] group shoot our numbers through the roof," said Sgt. Morris Carroll, police spokesman.

Livesay said the department also is considering assigning six new officers -- the personnel increase Robey is recommending in his proposed budget -- to tackle robberies.

The most common areas targeted for robberies are U.S. 40 and U.S. 1 and Columbia, said Sgt. Karen Shinham, who heads the robbery task force.

Increasing patrols

Sixty-nine robberies were committed from Jan. 1 to March 31, compared with 37 in the same period last year. Aggravated assaults increased from 33 last year to 42, a 27 percent increase. Homicides remained unchanged at one, and reported rapes dropped 55 percent, from nine last year to four this year.

The number of violent crimes was 116, compared with 80 last year.

"These crime statistics will tell us where our people are needed," Carroll said, indicating that the department could increase patrols in certain areas.

The quarterly crime increase is at odds with recent trends.

Serious crime declined 5 percent in Maryland last year, according to state police figures released last week. Last year in Howard County, robberies dropped by 17.1 percent, and aggravated assault dropped 32.2 percent compared with 1997.

Other metropolitan counties haven't reported crime data for the first three months of this year, so it's not clear whether Howard County stands alone.

Burglaries increased by 2.4 percent in the first three months, from 292 to 299. Thefts were up 5.7 percent, from 1,188 in the first quarter of last year to 1,256 this year. Motor vehicle thefts dropped 1 percent, to 147.

`Higher-profile crimes'

The new numbers don't surprise some Howard residents. Robberies at Giant supermarkets in Wilde Lake village in January and Dorsey's Search village in February and several holdups of pizza deliverers demonstrated the problem.

The statistics "confirm people's sense there is a higher rate of crime," said Jean Friedberg, chairman of the Columbia Council's public safety committee. "I think we all share a heightened sense that there have been some higher-profile crimes that are causing concern." "I was initially alarmed by the numbers," said Councilman Christopher J. Merdon, an Ellicott City Republican.

Grant for victims

To help victims, the state's attorney's office has received a $7,500 grant from the state Board of Victim Services.

State's Attorney Marna L. McLendon said the money will pay for group discussion sessions for crime victims, and she expects robbery and burglary victims to be the beneficiaries.

"Robbery victims have never had a special interest group" to represent their needs, she said. "What I love about [the program] is that it gives direct services to a population that is underserved."

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