Crime rate on average is stable

2000 figures show robbery, auto theft down since 1999

Juvenile arrests up

5-year figures show aggravated assault, theft down since 1996

April 17, 2001|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

The number of reported robberies and auto thefts in Howard County declined sharply last year while the number of juvenile arrests jumped significantly, according to year-end crime statistics released by county police yesterday.

Robberies decreased by 30 percent and car thefts by 32 percent between 1999 and last year, police said. Juvenile arrests increased by nearly 24 percent during the same period. Overall, the crime rate in the county remained fairly static, even as the population in the county continued to grow, police said.

Howard County police spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn attributed the decline in robberies to the recent creation of a police robbery unit, and the increase in juvenile arrests to the addition of school-resource officers in the county's high schools.

A change in the way stolen cars are handled once they are found contributed to the decrease in reported auto thefts, Llewellyn added.

"This new report shows that our efforts in the year 2000 ... have been effective," she said.

With the addition of 11 school-resource officers in the county's high schools, officers are building relationships with students, and the department is receiving information about possible youth crimes in ways it did not before - information that allows police to identify the young people committing crimes, she said.

Department statistics show that 2,394 youths were arrested last year, up from 1,934 in 1999, nearly a 24 percent increase. During the same period, adult arrests increased by less than 16 percent.

But the statistics also show a 50 percent increase in violent-crime arrests of juveniles over 1999; the figures for last year are more reflective of the mid-1990s, when juvenile arrests for violent crimes crept past one-third of total arrests for such crimes, said Howard County State's Attorney Marna L. McLendon.

"At first glance, it looks like we're kind of continuing the trend we've seen since the mid-1990s," said McLendon, who has focused efforts on reducing juvenile crime.

Although the numbers are "small" - 81 juveniles were charged with violent crimes last year, including two in homicides - "too many juveniles are charged with serious crime," she said. Intervention at the school level and by parents - "a holistic approach" - has to be a part of the long-term strategy to reduce the numbers, she said.

The overall increase in juvenile arrests also could be a product of a new culture in schools - a zero tolerance policy born of the spate of school shootings during the past few years, said Lee T. Towers, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Juvenile Justice. School-resource officers now handle incidents that might have been handled in-house before, he said.

"It stands to reason, you're going to have more incidents reported," he said. "The crime may always have been there, but now it's being reported."

A robbery unit, with four full-time detectives and one sergeant, has focused on those crimes in the county since late 1999, when it was made a permanent part of the department; between 1999 and 2000, the number of robberies decreased from 233 to 164.

So, too, the department changed its policy on recovered vehicles last year, asking patrol officers instead of auto theft investigators to process the stolen cars, freeing the detectives to investigate the theft itself, Llewellyn said; auto thefts decreased from 702 to 477 from 1999 to last year.

Yesterday's report also charted violent crimes and more serious property crimes during a five-year period beginning in 1996, allowing the department to see whether increases and decreases are part of a trend or a statistical "anomaly," Llewellyn said.

Although murder, theft, aggravated assault and rape were up from 1999, theft and aggravated assault were down compared with 1996 figures.

Robbery, burglary and auto theft were down both from 1999 to last year and during the five-year period charted by the department.

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