Overall, assault reports rose in the central Baltimore County area in the first part of the year, but the increase was almost entirely due to domestic violence.
Overall, assault reports rose in the central Baltimore County area in the first part of the year, but the increase was almost entirely due to domestic violence.

A rise in violent crime in central Baltimore County in the first half of 2019 can be attributed to a jump in domestic violence reports, according to Baltimore County officials.

Violent crime rose by nearly 18 percent in the first five months of 2019 compared to the year before in the three central county precincts – Towson, Cockeysville and Parkville – according to police statistics. Nearly all can be attributed to domestic assaults, which spiked by 68 percent.

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Last week at a town hall hosted by County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. and new police chief Melissa Hyatt at the Maryland State Fairgrounds, a woman who identified herself as a resident of the Parkville precinct said she had recently found the countywide domestic violence numbers online – “and honestly, I’m flabbergasted.”

In the central part of the county, the number of first-degree domestic assaults – in which someone caused or attempted to cause serious physical injury – numbered 37 so far this year, up from 14 in the first five months of 2018.

Countywide, reports of domestic crimes rose in recent years, according to data published by the Maryland State Police, from less than 6,500 in 2013 to more than 9,500 in 2017. In that time period, the county population grew from 823,364 to 832,468.

“What are we going to do moving forward?” the woman asked Hyatt at Tuesday’s town hall, calling the numbers “alarming.”

Little more than a week into her job, Hyatt said she will take time to reflect on the rise.

“Domestic-related crimes are something that we take incredibly seriously,” Hyatt said, adding that police response alone is not enough without support for victims.

The central area of the county was the only one showing a significant spike in domestic violence. In the first part of 2019, domestic assault statistics largely remained steady or declined across the east and west sides of county.

Towson Precinct domestic violence coordinator Officer Kristy Fuka said she has not noticed a change in the amount of domestic assault cases. She also said there have been no changes in how the precinct reports or responds to domestic assaults.

UMBC session delves into domestic violence

As October — Domestic Violence Awareness Month — comes to a close, a University of Maryland, Baltimore County group took on the topic Thursday night.

The department follows up on every domestic incident and refers victims to organizations such as Baltimore-based TurnAround Inc., that provide counseling, shelter and other support.

There has been no hike in overall violent crime in the central area that corresponds with the rise in domestic violence: Non-domestic first-degree assaults in the central area fell by nearly 40 percent. Theft, including motor vehicle break-ins, also declined, though second-degree burglary of businesses has more than doubled.

An increase in reported domestic assaults can, in some cases, actually be a good sign, said Michele Decker, director of the Women’s Health and Rights Program at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

“Intimate partner violence is one of the most under-reported crimes, which always makes it hard to really interpret estimates that use police report data,” Decker said in an email. “When we do see increases in police reports of violence - honestly this can be a positive indicator if it reflects increases in confidence in a nonstigmatizing, safe and effective police encounter.”

The best way to track domestic violence in the area would be a population-level survey, Decker said.

Stacie Burgess, a Baltimore County Health Department spokeswoman, said the department does not have survey data on domestic violence.

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Decker called the increase in domestic violence in central Baltimore County significant but said it is impossible to know what is driving it without more information.

“There is certainly a tidal wave of activity and engagement following the #MeToo movement, with survivors being fed up with impunity related to violence and harassment, though we wouldn’t necessarily expect that to be concentrated in specific areas,” Decker said.

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