Violent crime up last year, police say

5-year county high blamed on rise of 34% in robberies

February 21, 2002|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

Violent crime in Anne Arundel County reached a five-year high last year, largely because of an increase in robberies, according to statistics released yesterday by the county Police Department.

At least one robbery was reported on most days last year in the county. For the year, robberies were up 34 percent, to 576 from 430 in 2000.

The trend in robberies appears to be continuing this year, according to police reports. A Pasadena bank was robbed yesterday as police officials released the 2001 crime data. "Armed robberies are really what's driving up our crime," said Deputy Police Chief Emerson C. Davis.

Overall, violent crime was up 16 percent last year, with 330 more robberies and assaults reported than the 2,073 recorded in 2000, the report said.

The number of homicides, nine, was unchanged from 2000 to last year. The number of rapes reported increased by three, to 100 last year.

"Most of violent crime is not random, though," Davis said.

Although the statistics released yesterday show significant increases, Davis said police officials are pleased to see crimes such as assaults reported more often. Last year, 1,718 aggravated assaults were reported, nearly 12 percent more than in 2000. Many of those assaults involved domestic violence, he said.

"We encourage victims to report assaults," he said. "We can't have this kind of thing happening behind closed doors."

Total crime, including property crimes such as trespassing and vandalism, increased 3.1 percent last year, to 63,907 from 61,966 in 2000, according to the report. But auto thefts reached a five-year low of 1,110 last year, 11 percent fewer than in 2000 and part of a steady decline in auto thefts since 1997.

Major crime, defined as violent incidents, burglaries, thefts and arson, increased 3 percent last year, according to the statistics, which were collected for the national Uniform Crime Report (UCR).

Davis attributed some of the increase in robberies to a recent change in the definition of armed robbery on the UCR to include shoplifting involving a confrontation. He said that when a shoplifter is confronted by a store clerk or security guard and resists, the crime is defined as a robbery on the UCR. Under Maryland law, the suspect can be charged only with theft and aggravated assault, Davis said.

The deputy chief said the bulk of the increase in robberies involved suspects confronting victims, usually with a gun or by implying that they have a weapon.

Most disturbing to county police officials about the robbery trend is the number of people committing multiple robberies, Davis said. "Each time, there's a possibility of an escalation in violence," he said.

"We noticed more serial robberies than we've had in the past," said Davis, adding that serial bank robberies accounted for the largest increase last year.

Thirty-six bank robberies were reported last year, up from 19 in 2000. Four groups of suspects were responsible for 16 of the bank robberies last year, almost half of the year's total, Davis said.

Robbers also repeatedly held up chain stores, gas stations and pizza delivery drivers, police reports showed. One Severna Park man robbed more than eight hotel clerks during two weeks in September, police said.

Of the 226 cases investigated by the county Police Department's robbery unit last year, 73 percent were solved, Davis said. Other robberies were solved by district detectives and officers on patrol, he said.

It helped that businesses have better surveillance cameras and security systems, police officials said. Even some snowball stands have alarm buttons, county police said.

Although the regional crime report has not been released, Davis said he expects it to show the increase in robberies is not confined to Anne Arundel County.

In addition to participating in regional robbery task forces, Anne Arundel County police formed a department-wide study group several months ago to address the problem, Davis said. The group, made up of patrol officers, detectives and crime-prevention officers, aims to develop better strategies to prevent and respond to robberies, Davis said.

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