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County crime rate 'in best shape we've ever been," says sheriff

When it comes to crime in Harford County, "we're in the best shape we've ever been," Harford County Sheriff Jesse Bane said Wednesday.

Bane spoke at Aberdeen's HEAT Center before the county's Economic Development Advisory Board to explain the status of the county and what the Harford County Sheriff's Office is doing to work with local businesses to reduce crime.

"There's a serious gap between public safety and the working business community," Bane said. "Unless [people] really need you, they don't pay too much attention to crime or the Sheriff's Office or public safety."

In fact, the two should go hand in hand, he added, because a lower crime rate attracts businesses.

A statistic Bane has mentioned previously, Harford County has the second lowest crime rate in Maryland.

"We're in better shape than we have ever been when it comes to our crime rate," he said. Carroll County is first in the state and Harford is the only major metropolitan county in the top five.

Burglaries, however, continue to be an issue.

"The burglary rates are killing us," Bane said. "We're struggling with that almost daily to figure out how to deal with that issue. We know why and where it's occurring, it's just getting a handle on it."

Traffic

Another huge concern is traffic safety.

"Everywhere we go today, when we go to community groups, that's all they want to talk about," the sheriff said.

Bane explained the four things that determine traffic safety are law enforcement, education on traffic laws, a county or city's emergency medical system and the engineering of the roads.

While the sheriff's office can help with enforcing traffic laws, "I cannot influence the other ones," Bane said. "I can have input, but that responsibility falls to others to take the lead on that."

Bane has lived in Harford County since 1954 when the area was much more rural and dirt roads were prominent.

Today, "particularly the further north you go," he said, "there's nothing more than original dirt roads that were paved over for traffic."

The issue with that is those rural roads were not engineered to handle traffic flow, with shoulders, and speeding.

"Our traffic safety is deplorable," Bane continued. "We have the fifth highest fatality rate in the state of Maryland, and the crash rate isn't that much better, either."

Even with that startling statistic, Bane said the county's accident rate is still lower now than it was 10 years ago, with traffic fatalities about half of what they were.

Del. Susan McComas, who represents the Bel Air and Abingdon areas, asked Bane what the "hot spots" for traffic accidents were in the county.

Bane listed a few, including the intersection of Routes 152 and 1 in Fallston and Routes 152 and 40 in Joppa.

McComas noted that many of her constituents are concerned with traffic worsening along Route 924 in Bel Air when the new Walmart is built off of Plumtree Road.

"There's a lot of crashes [on Route 924]," he said, "but not necessarily fatalities."

This is still a huge issue because totaled cars and injured people can cause a lot of economic turmoil for the people involved.

The biggest problem, however, comes from drivers wanting to avoid state roads and traveling down smaller roads instead that can't handle the amount of traffic it's receiving.

"There's a high instance of crashes on secondary roads" Bane said. "and that's driving up a lot of anger and frustration in our communities."

EDAB chairman Eric McLauchlin noted that from a development standpoint when new development comes into an area they are often obligated to make road improvements.

"It's an opportunity for the community to see traffic in this area flow better, and an opportunity for the county or state to say, 'You have to do lights, or put in a right in, right out [entrance and exit],'" McLauchlin said. "That shouldn't be overlooked."

Bane agreed, saying "some of the best improvements in the county are a result of businesses coming in and making those improvements."

New strategies

"For a county like Harford County, law enforcement needs to be a leader and not a follower," Bane said. The sheriff's office is moving toward using the DDACS (Data Driven Approach to Crime and Safety) program, which map the crime in the county, then maps traffic crashes and complaints, then finally superimposes the two on top of each other to see the overlap in both instances.

The areas that have significant overlap, Bane said, will have a more focused policing strategy there.

The county also implemented a "Safe Streets" strategy a few weeks ago and works in conjunction with Maryland State Police and municipality law enforcement.

The strategy compiles a list of career criminals and violent offenders for police to follow. The people on the list, Bane noted, are usually on parole or probation.

In the first week of operation, the sheriff's office removed eight violent offenders from the streets.

Businesses

Crime issues with businesses aren't just limited to shoplifting, Bane said, but include information security and white collar crime, too.

The sheriff's office offers training on public safety to help businesses address these issues, but not many take advantage of the training.

"If we're going to be effective in fighting crime in Harford County there needs to be a relationship established with the business community," Bane said.

In addition, many instances of crime go unreported for "a lot of different reasons."

"I need to be working with you to address whatever those reasons are," he continued.

Still, Harford should be proud of its distinction in crime rates, especially when compared to surrounding counties.

Baltimore City, Bane said, is ranked last in the state, Baltimore County is No. 17 and Cecil County is 20th.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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