Violent crime up 18 percent, police report

Overall rate shows 3 percent decline in '03

Rise in assaults a concern

Despite population boom, fewer service calls made

Howard County

April 07, 2004|By Gus G. Sentementes | Gus G. Sentementes,SUN STAFF

Violent crime in Howard County jumped 18 percent last year as the Police Department handled more assaults and robberies, but the overall crime rate declined slightly - by 3 percent - fueled by a drop in property crimes, police said.

Rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults increased last year while the number of homicides remained unchanged at seven, according to police statistics released yesterday. Burglaries declined 11 percent and thefts dropped 6 percent.

Motor vehicle thefts, which dipped to a five-year low in 2000, have since crept upward. The number of cars stolen increased 11 percent, to 680, last year, the figures showed.

For the first time in at least five years, the Police Department received fewer calls for service, even as the county's population continued to increase. Last year, the department received 128,063 calls, compared with 129,180 calls in 2002.

The statistics showed that the police force has tackled property crimes with increasing success since the late 1990s. The number of property crime reports declined 4 percent over a five-year period, from 7,236 in 1999 to 6,959 last year.

But violent crimes, which include homicide, rape, robbery and aggravated assault, have slowly risen over the five-year period, from 472 in 1999 to 541 last year. The violent crime rate rose last year after dipping to a five-year low of 458 in 2002.

Sherry Llewellyn, a police spokeswoman, noted that aggravated assaults accounted for most of the increase in the violent crime rate. She said that reducing such assaults is difficult because the offenses typically involve people in domestic situations who know each other.

"Sometimes we see these unexplained increases and unexplained drops," Llewellyn said. "Of course, it concerns the Police Department that our officers are responding to more of these assaults because they can be potentially dangerous for them, as well."

Last year, police cleared, or closed, 352 violent crimes and 1,391 property crimes, according to police statistics. Most of the clearances involved arrests, but not all the cleared crimes occurred in 2003, she said.

Councilman David A. Rakes, an east Columbia Democrat, said he was concerned about drugs and violence. He pointed to a recent drug sweep in Columbia that yielded more than 30 arrests after a 1 1/2 -year investigation. He emphasized that communities - and not just the Police Department - need to do more to "solve issues of violence."

"I think it comes from a lack of community involvement, a lack of social activities," Rakes said. "I think we have to do more to claim more of our neighborhoods."

Rakes said he wants to create a neighborhood watch program in the Stevens Forest apartments area in Oakland Mills - an area that has been troubled by crime in recent years. Other kinds of outreach programs are also important, he noted.

"We need to get recreational programs going, get people to feel a part of what I call the `Columbia experience,' " Rakes said.

This year, the county has had one homicide. The body of Tamaria Hughes, 36, a Baltimore woman, was found in a freezer in Ellicott City in early March. Police arrested two Ellicott City residents in her death.

Another closely watched statistic - assaults against police officers - increased from 110 in 2002 to 124 last year. The upward trend concerned police officials, who worked with Howard County Del. Neil F. Quinter to draft legislation this year that would make it a felony to assault a police officer. But that legislation likely will not pass the General Assembly this year.

Maryland ranked fourth in the nation in assaults on police officers in 2002, behind Florida, California, and Texas - all states with significantly larger populations, according to FBI data.

Another category that increased significantly is family, child neglect and child abuse, which rose 70 percent, from 135 incidents in 2002 to 230 last year, figures showed. Llewellyn said she did not know if the increase was because of more instances of child abuse in the county, or heightened awareness and better reporting.

Drug and prostitution violations, drunken-driving offenses and vandalism all declined, the figures showed.

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