A 33 percent increase in robberies in the first nine months of this year, compared with the same period last year, pushed Howard County's total violent crime rate up 6.5 percent, the county reported yesterday. Homicides, rapes and aggravated assaults all decreased when compared with the same period last year.
The county's FBI uniform crime report for the first three quarters of 2001 also shows a 21 percent jump in burglaries when compared with the first three quarters of 2000.
The percentage of robberies and burglaries solved by police this year declined, compared with the same period last year, the report says.
County police spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn said police closed an unusually high number of robbery cases last year, but this year's clearance rate has been average.
"We were quite proud of our robbery numbers last year," she said. "Last year was an anomaly, so we've just normalized this year."
Howard County Police Chief Wayne Livesay could not be reached late yesterday for comment.
Police closed 38 - about 26 percent - of the 148 robberies in the first nine months of this year, and closed 53 - about 48 percent - of 111 robberies in the first nine months last year.
Police cleared about 20 percent of the 178 robberies in the first nine months of 1999 and 32 percent of the 125 robberies in the first nine months of 1998.
The clearance rate for burglaries decreased from 17 percent in the first nine months of last year to 13 percent in the first nine months this year.
Crime statistics also show Howard police are struggling to close motor vehicle thefts. They cleared about 10 percent of the cases in the first nine months this year and the first nine months last year. Statistics show stolen vehicles are a continuing problem for police across Maryland.
"Those can be challenging," Llewellyn said. "Stolen vehicles are often junked or burned or abandoned in other states."
Llewellyn said Howard County tries to control auto theft through a state-funded program.
From January through September, 407 cars were stolen, compared with 396 during the same period last year and 533 in that period of 1999.
Llewellyn said police use crime data to help determine how to allocate resources. After a substantial increase in robberies between 1998 and 1999, Livesay created a five-officer robbery unit.
Robberies dropped from 233 in 1999 to 164 in 2000, a decrease attributed to the new unit.
Deputy State's Attorney I. Matthew Campbell said robberies are complicated crimes to investigate.
"Police need intelligence on when and where robberies are occurring, they need to be able to discern patterns and devote resources to [be in] a better position to make arrests," he said.
Llewellyn said a single arrest is often the key to closing a large number of robbery or burglary cases.
"The challenge is identifying that one person or group of people who may be responsible for many of the open cases," she said.
Eddie Goff, who was charged Nov. 6 with 74 burglary-related counts in Howard County, is a prime example of such a repeat-burglary suspect. He also faces a number of burglary charges in Baltimore County.
The state's attorney's office often works with police to combat a particular crime problem.
"We constantly try to respond to community concerns, especially if they are concentrated in one area," said Deputy State's Attorney Dario Broccolino. "We work with police and attend community meetings all the time if, for example, there is a series of burglaries."
At community meetings, representatives from the office explain the pertinent laws and describe the possible sanctions, he said.
"The truth of the matter is that we normally don't have these waves of crime in a particular area," he said. "And when we do, police are quick to respond when they see a trend."