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. The department last year 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."