Police to make robbery-probe unit permanent

Temporary task force created by chief yields positive results

July 13, 1999|By Nancy A. Youssef | Nancy A. Youssef,SUN STAFF

Three months after creating a robbery task force, Howard County police officials are finalizing plans to add a permanent four-detective robbery unit to their specialized operations.

The unit will be part of a new 10-member special investigation section, which also will handle fraud, auto theft and the grand jury liaison. The investigation section will be headed by Sgt. Karen Shinham, who was in charge of the robbery task force.

The robbery unit should be finalized within the next couple of weeks, said Maj. Jeff Spaulding, deputy chief for operations.

Previously, members of the violent crime unit -- detectives who investigate homicides, assaults, rapes and suspicious deaths -- also handled robberies. But administrators said that system often put robberies at the bottom of their priority list.

"Many times, [violent crime detectives] would be assigned to a robbery and three hours later would be called out on a death," Shinham said.

County police Chief Wayne Livesay created the five-member robbery task force -- a temporary unit -- April 1 in response to the high number of robberies here.

In the first three months of this year, 69 robberies were committed, compared with 37 for the same period last year -- an 86.5 percent jump. As of June 29, 125 robberies had been committed in the county, said Sgt. Morris Carroll, a county police spokesman.

Between April and last month, the task force made about eight arrests and helped determine ways to track repeat offenders.

Officials decided to make the task force a permanent unit because they found that a specialized force allowed detectives to find patterns in crimes and build a rapport with robbery units in other police departments.

"I think the task force showed that if you had a unit concentrating on robberies solely, you could reduce numbers in the long term," Shinham said.

Howard's police force was the only one in the area without a robbery unit.

"The task force was an indication of things to come," Spaulding said.

Officials said they often are looking for the same suspects sought by other jurisdictions, making it important that county officials stay in touch with other departments, she added.

The four detectives in the unit will work robberies only, concentrating on commercial crimes. They also will "work pattern street robberies," Shinham said.

About 25 percent of violent crimes are robberies, Spaulding said, adding that "robberies are driving our violent crime."

In the next two weeks, officials will determine which detectives will join the unit, but they said two will come from the violent crimes section.

The last specialized police unit was added in 1997, an automated enforcement program for traffic violations. Cameras were installed at traffic lights, and the police send tickets to red-light runners caught in photos.

Pub Date: 7/13/99

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