Not all weeks are created equal in the news reporting businesses — and the week that was goes down as a rough one. Our front-page headlines were unrelenting.
“Pickup rear-ends stopped school bus." “Dentist facing child porn charges.” “Two charged with robbery, assault at park.” “Charges in teen workers’ assault.' “Bookkeeper charged with embezzling $1 million.” “Man faces sex offense charges.” “3rd person charged in alleged robbery, beating at City Park.” "Man, woman die in Sykesville when 19th-century house burns.”
That’s just Tuesday through Saturday. The bus collision was an accident with no serious injuries. The fire was a terrible tragedy. But those bookended an awful lot of crime. Obviously, those named in the stories are presumed innocent. Still, it was quite a week.
Is this a trend? Is it becoming unsafe to live around here?
Unscientifically, that seems to be the perception. The most oft-posted comment on social media responding to our crime stories is, invariably, some variation of, “This isn’t the Carroll County or [insert municipality] I grew up in/moved to.”
At least it is for those in their 30s or 40s or 50s who have lived in Carroll for all or most of their lives. The Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention has data from the Maryland Statistical Analysis Center (MSAC) going back to 1975. Clicking on the link to violent crime and property crime by county is pretty eye-opening.
In 1975, the first year for which data is available, Carroll County’s violent crime rate was 209 incidents per 100,000 people. That number had jumped to 309 by 1986. In 2017, the most recent year for which data is available, the number was down to 193.
Again, per 100,000, the property crime rate was 2,260 in 1975, it hit a high of 2,631 in 1992 and was just 1,169 in 2017. The aggravated assault rate was 166 per 100,000 in 1975, went as high as 253 in 1986 and was down to 157 in 2017.
Breaking and entering data is even more startling. The rate was 654 per 100,000 residents in 1975. By 2017 it was only 196. Similarly, motor vehicle larcenies were 111 per 100,000 residents in 1975, up to 148 in 1991, and down to 49 in 2017.
For pretty much every category, according to this data, modern-day crime rates are well below numbers from “the good old days.” Down by half or two-thirds in many cases.
Those declines are in line with national trends. Yet study after study shows perception is the opposite. Perhaps it’s the onslaught of crime stories in the now-24/7 media. Perhaps its social media. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that older people are more worried about crime than younger people and our society is getting older. Perhaps it has to do with the incentive of some in power to play up safety issues to secure funding or votes. It’s probably all of that and more.
Certainly there is reason to be careful. But those worried about being assaulted or killed should be less concerned about that suspicious-looking character they’ve never seen before and more concerned about a friend or family member. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, somewhere around two-thirds of all violent crime is committed by someone the victim knows.
No question, last week was a bad week around here, as represented on our front pages. Scary even. But the reality is, last week was an anomaly. Way, way out of the ordinary. We have gone weeks without a single crime story being deemed serious enough for us to put it on the front page.
Just because the stories we run are newsworthy doesn’t mean they paint an overall picture of Carroll County. In fact, they’re newsworthy precisely because the incidents that cause us to write them don’t occur often.