Carroll County had the lowest serious crime rate in the state last year - despite a declining number of police officers in the growing metropolitan county, the Westminster state police barracks commander said yesterday.
Using charts and graphs, State Police Capt. Scott Yinger presented a report at the county commissioners' request, showing 2,980 serious crimes last year, down from 3,001 in 2002.
The serious crimes from which the rate is computed are murder, rape, robbery, serious assault, burglaries, theft and automobile theft.
"The ratio of police continues to decline, while the population continues to grow," Yinger said.
The number of sworn police officers - including those with the five municipal forces and the county Sheriff's Department - has dropped from 225 to 213, he said.
The current ratio is 1.28 police officers per 1,000 residents, with the population increasing by an average of 3 percent a year.
The county's new adequate-facilities law calls for 1.3 officers per 1,000 population.
Carroll has the state's largest resident trooper program, which has served as the county's primary police force since January 1974.
The resident trooper program officially began when the county entered into a contract to have state police add 10 troopers to the Westminster barracks.
There are 50 resident troopers and 43 regularly assigned officers who patrol 2,600 miles of road, Yinger said.
County officials have sporadically talked of establishing a county police force or expanding the Sheriff's Department.
A task force on the future of law enforcement in the county is being established with Yinger and Sheriff Kenneth L. Tregoning.
It also will include officers from some of the five towns that have police forces.
The plan for the task force was outlined by Steven D. Powell, the commissioners' chief of staff, in a July 12 letter to Maryland State Police Superintendent Col. Thomas E. "Tim" Hutchins.
The task force is expected to begin work in early fall.
"With the state's decision to maintain the resident trooper program at its current level, and the county's adequate-facilities ordinance requiring additional policing as the population grows, the board of county commissioners would like to formalize a plan for the future of law enforcement in Carroll," Powell wrote.
Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge said there have been questions about whether the resident trooper program would continue.
Nevertheless, the county needs to plan for the future, whether it expands the trooper program or the Sheriff's Department or looks at creating a county police force, she said.
Yinger said Hutchins could provide answers about the trooper program when he visits with the commissioners Aug. 17.
Tregoning, who said he attended the presentation as an observer, commended Yinger for "the outstanding job they do with limited resources. The Sheriff's Office is here to support them in any way we can."
Yinger told the commissioners that the ratio of law enforcement officers per 1,000 residents is 1.28 this year, down from 1.43 in 1998.
"The concern is the low number of police officers per 1,000," Yinger said. "I would never turn down more police."
Carroll's crime numbers are listed in the preliminary 2004 state police Uniform Crime Report on county crime trends.
Breakdown of crimes
The crimes reported comparing 2002 with last year show that murders dropped last year from 5 to 2; rape increased from 31 to 42; robbery was down from 50 to 39; assaults were up from 305 to 321; burglaries held about even at 527 to 526; thefts were down from 1,948 to 1,907; car theft was up from 135 to 143. Instances of arson were about even, going from 25 in 2002 to 24 last year.
As for traffic, Yinger said, "citations for the first six months of 2004 are up considerably from the prior year," including speeding, aggressive driving and drunken driving. Last year, he said, there were no traffic fatalities attributed to alcohol.
One number seemed to trouble him: There was a drop in the number of adult criminal arrests, while juvenile arrests increased slightly.
"I don't know why they're down. I'm not sure I have a good explanation why," he said.
Among the state's 24 jurisdictions - Baltimore City and the 23 counties - Carroll had the lowest serious crime rate last year, Yinger said. In 2001 and 2002, Carroll ranked second-lowest in serious crimes, behind only Garrett County.
"The crime rate in Carroll County is low due to the quality of citizens you have here," Yinger said.