Crime down countywide, but thefts cause rise in Towson

Crime was down in 2012 compared to 2011 and five-year averages everywhere in Baltimore County except for the Towson area, and Baltimore County Police on Wednesday announced several initiatives aimed at suppressing crime in Towson going forward.

Baltimore County Police Chief Jim Johnson made the announcements during a press briefing held at the Public Safety Building in Towson to release 2012 crime statistics. The spike in Towson was primarily due to an increase in property thefts last year, he said.

"In Towson, we saw an increase due to certain kinds of theft: shoplifting, theft from vehicles, theft from buildings," Johnson said. "It's important that law enforcement in Towson maintain an omnipresence and work closely with the private sector security communities as well."

To that end, Johnson said that three additional police officers will be assigned to the Towson precinct and deployed in the downtown Towson area beginning in June, and showed off a set of three electric standup vehicles that will also be used in downtown Towson.

"As part of our commitment to keep the downtown Towson entertainment district attractive and family friendly, I'm pleased to announce an increased police presence for this area," County Executive Kevin Kamenetz said.

Kamenetz said the additional officers will be funded from savings and efficiencies in the recently announced FY14 county budget. The officers will primarily work at night, Kamenetz said.

Though several high-profile incidences of violence occurred in Towson last year, including a crowd that became unruly outside the Recher Theatre and a late-night non-fatal shooting stemming from an altercation outside Charles Village Pub, Johnson said violent crime was only up 2.7-percent (10 instances) in Towson over the five-year averages.

"We're planning for the short term and the long term," he said. "We want, as the county executive stated, our citizens to come in and enjoy this entertainment district. … We think this action, along with working with private security, will make this a safer and much more attractive place as we go forward."

The three electric standup vehicles, which were donated by the Baltimore County Police Foundation at an expense of $39,000, will provide visibility for police officers in the Towson core and allow for "flexibility and mobility," Kamenetz said.

Towson was the only precinct to see an increase in major property crime, with a 16.1-percent increase (324 incidents) to 2,336 instances of theft primarily driving the spike over the five-year averages.

Johnson cited a spike in both thefts from motor vehicles — many of which he said were unlocked or had valuables visible from the outside — and the increased capacity of private security firms at commercial centers like the Towson Town Center mall and Towson Place shopping center to catch shoplifters as the reasons for such a large jump.

Councilman David Marks, who represents the 5th District including Towson, said he's been hearing about the thefts for "quite some time," and applauded the extra patrols in Towson.

"Towson is going to continue to grow and will continue to need more police officers," Marks said.

Across the county, several precincts saw steep declines compared to the five-year averages, contributing to a 6.7-percent decrease in total crime. Improvement over five-year averages was the greatest in the White Marsh precinct, where crime fell 14 percent and in Woodawn, which saw an 11.6 percent drop, officials said.

Johnson said while total crime is down from the 2011 numbers, the five-year averages give a more accurate picture of crime trends.

There were 23 homicides in Baltimore County, down six from the five-year average, and an overall decrease of 518 instances of violent crime. That figure is down 11.1 percent from the five-year totals.

Property crime is down 7.9 percent across the county from the five-year averages as well.

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