Violent crimes in Anne Arundel County increased slightly in 2010 while the number of serious property crimes decreased significantly, a development county police attributed largely to the "smarter" tracking of crime trends in recent years.
The statistics, released by police on Friday, showed that the total number of crimes in Anne Arundel — everything from homicides to disorderly conduct — decreased by about 3.6 percent in 2010, compared with the previous year.
The decrease is in line with a longer-term drop in crime in the county, police said.
"We're excited. This is a five-year trend that we've seen in the reduction of total crime in Anne Arundel County," said Maj. Thomas Wilson, commander of the patrol services bureau. "We're just working smarter, we hope."
Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold credited police officers for using limited resources effectively in a time of economic difficulty.
Leopold, a Republican, said he intends to make public safety No. 1 on his administration's list of funding priorities once the economy picks up and expected revenue from the Arundel Mills casino begins to flow into county coffers by late 2012.
"That can be used for strengthening our police presence in the western part of the county, where the greatest growth is going to occur," Leopold said.
In all, the most serious categories of crimes declined about 7 percent in 2010, fueled primarily by steep drops in the number of property crimes. Larcenies, for example, went down by 9 percent to 10,901 in 2010. Burglaries also dropped in the last year, by around 7 percent.
Those categories are targeted by county police as part of the PROTECT program, in which top officers meet weekly to examine where crimes are occurring and to spot repeat offenders.
"As soon as we see [a] crime spree starting to come up, we put all the resources we can in that area," said Wilson. "We saturate the area with additional patrols, we try to identify all the folks that are kind of out and about at places they shouldn't be."
While serious property crimes dropped last year in Anne Arundel, most categories of violent crime — including homicides, rapes and aggravated assaults — remained virtually the same or increased slightly. Robberies were the only violent crime that dropped, by 14 percent. In all, violent crime inched up about 1 percent in 2010 compared with 2009.
A sharp increase in the use of handguns in aggravated assaults — a 52 percent jump over 2009 — has police especially worried, Wilson said. The use of other weapons, including bottles and baseball bats, is up as well, he said.
Police will formulate a strategy in coming weeks to reduce the use of weapons, Wilson said.
Still, because Anne Arundel's population has increased by 16,000 people in the past year, the county's homicide rate actually declined, to 2.6 per 100,000 people, the lowest rate since 2001, according to statistics maintained by the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention.
But with 106 rapes in 2010, the number of the sexual assaults increased slightly to almost 20 per 100,000 people, compared with 2009's 18.3 per 100,000.
Police said they are worried by a recent increase in rapes committed by perpetrators known to their victims, so-called "date rapes." Such crimes, they said, are far more difficult to prevent than rapes by strangers.
"A lot of these rapes are happening, say, at a party, inside a private residence, where we have no control," said Maj. Ed Bergin, who commands the department's special services bureau.
Anne Arundel is one of just a handful of Maryland counties that have released detailed 2010 crime summaries. Bill Toohey, spokesman for the governor's crime prevention office, said other jurisdictions are expected to release their summaries in April.