Violent crime down 10.3%

Big drop in robberies, zero homicides spur first-quarter change

New robbery unit credited

Arrests, clearance rates increase

`hopefully we can continue the trend'

May 18, 2000|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,SUN STAFF

Thanks to a dramatic drop in robberies, violent crime in Howard County decreased by 10.3 percent in the first quarter of this year, county police said yesterday.

The statistics show that 36 robberies were reported between January and March, compared with 69 in the same period last year. No homicides were reported in the first quarter of this year; last year there was one in the first three months.

"Hopefully, we can continue the trend," said Sgt. John Superson, a police spokesman.

Police credit a new robbery unit and a special assignment section with helping to reduce the number of street crimes.

Last year, county police Chief Wayne Lively created a temporary task force to handle an increase in robberies. He made it permanent when police realized that the specialized force helped find patterns in crimes and build a rapport with robbery units in other Baltimore-area police departments. Until then, Howard was the only department in the region without a robbery unit.

Officers in the special assignment section work undercover in neighborhoods where prostitution, the drug trade or other crimes have been persistent. Neighborhoods are selected after looking at crime trends and listening to area complaints.

Property crimes also were down during the quarter. A total of 1,199 thefts were reported compared with 1,256 the year before, and 129 motor vehicle thefts compared with 147 the previous year. Burglary increased slightly from 299 in the first quarter of last year to 302 during the same period this year.

Barbara Russell, the Oakland Mills representative on the Columbia Council, cautioned against reading too much into the numbers.

"Crime statistics go up and down," she said. "While I'm happy they've gone down, I think we still need to address the crime problems that do exist."

Russell, who made crime one of the central issues in her recent campaign for the council, wants to establish a police substation in the Oakland Mills Village Center and improve lighting on the trails.

"There are areas of the county that have to be vigilant," she said.

Though overall violent crime was down during the quarter, the number of rapes and assaults increased.

In the first three months of this year, nine rapes were reported compared with four the previous year; the number of aggravated assaults grew from 42 to 59.

The Police Department's clearance rate for most serious crimes improved. Police solved 36 percent of the robberies compared with 17.4 percent the year before; 24.5 percent of the burglaries compared with 12.4 percent the previous year; and 9.3 percent of the auto thefts compared with 8.2 percent last year.

The department cleared all of the rape cases reported during the quarter and one reported from the previous quarter.

The clearance rate for aggravated assault was 71 percent -- a bit less than the previous year.

Arrests increased during the quarter. Police reported 1,435 adults arrested in the first quarter compared with 1,204 last year, and 534 juveniles compared with 425 last year.

Altogether, the department received 26,917 calls for service during the quarter compared with 21,006 the previous year. Police said the increase was caused at least in part by the county's gain of 5,700 residents last year.

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