Violent crime in Howard Co. rose 45% in first quarter

Data reveal robberies increased by 86.5%

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.

Sixty-nine robberies were commited 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 the same 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 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.

The new numbers don't surprise some Howard residents.

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."

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