Violent crime falls in Annapolis, but thefts are on the rise

Increase in thefts leads to an overall rise in crime

March 07, 2011|By Andrea F. Siegel, The Baltimore Sun

Violent crime hit a 31-year low in Annapolis last year, but a jump in thefts led overall crime in the city to climb by 8.4 percent over 2009's 35-year low.

Crime statistics provided Monday by city police pointed to a sharp increase in motor vehicle thefts last year, along with smaller increases in other thefts.

"We are not at all discouraged," said Annapolis Police Chief Michael A. Pristoop, noting that the figures indicate that approaches undertaken in recent years, especially those aimed at getting violent repeat offenders off the street, are paying off.

The city also has improved its police technology, added security cameras and worked with property owners as well as officials in other agencies.

"What's very essential to note is that violence is down, and the safety of a city is measured a lot by violence," he said.

Major Scott Baker said much of the violent crime in the city, including three of the four homicides in 2010, occurred among people who knew each other.

The 2010 figures remained significantly below the numbers five years ago in every major category. The major categories include homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny and motor vehicle theft.

Overall, there were 1,327 serious crimes in the state capital last year, up by more than 100 over 2009, but dramatically down from 2,474 in 2006. Last year's increase, Pristoop said, was driven almost exclusively by thefts.

Motor vehicle thefts increased by nearly 32 percent last year over 2009.

Scooters, which have been gaining in popularity as inexpensive around-town transportation, as well as all-terrain vehicles fall into the category of motor vehicles, and they are easily stolen, Baker said.

Scooters and ATVs frequently aren't secured by chains or kept in garages, and some owners have reported repeated thefts of them, Baker said. Thefts of items in cars, up by 9 percent, often occur in part because the items are tempting targets in unlocked cars, such as GPS units left on the dashboard and cell phones left on the seat.

"It really comes down to what precautions people are taking — that's one of the reasons our thefts are up," Baker said. "People aren't locking their cars, they are not shutting their garages. These are crimes of opportunity, and we are giving them the opportunity."

The city has ramped up its approach to theft prevention, with calls to homes in neighborhoods when auto thefts and car break-ins spike, reminding people to lock their cars and garages. Police are preparing guides for preventing thefts of items from cars, planning stings and identifying repeat offenders for stiffer prosecution, police said.

The city also has two prevention programs, a "scooter watch" and a similar program for cars. In each, owners allow police to stop their vehicles at any time to check whether they have been stolen.

Particularly troubling among the numbers is that last year, shoplifting accounted for 27 percent of all thefts in the city, with four stores reporting 16 percent of all thefts, police said. Pristoop said police are working with the stores to reduce the number of thefts.

Mayor Joshua Cohen said the uptick in crime from 2009's low was expected but not particularly worrisome because the overall trend over several years is toward a reduction in crime.

"I am encouraged, violent crime is down" he said.

He credited Pristoop and police strategies, work by officers, help from the community and partnerships with a variety of agencies.

Crime in Annapolis

Category20102009+/-+/- %Homicide4400.00%Rape79-2-22.22%Robbery9182910.98%Agg. Assault124148-24-16.22%Burglary197199-2-1.01%Larceny8007039713.80%Auto Theft104792531.65%Total132712241038.42%SOURCE: Annapolis Police Dept.

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