Editorial: Westminster must combat crime and perception of crime

After a tragic few days in which a developmentally delayed woman was allegedly raped at the Westminster branch of the Carroll County Public Library and a man who was implicated in a string of property destruction crimes allegedly stabbed and then was shot and killed by police just outside of the city limits, Westminster officials talked March 11 at a regularly scheduled Mayor and Common Council meeting about how serious crime is actually on the decline in Westminster despite a contrary perception in the community.

Reassuring words are one thing, but the release of data showing that in 2018, serious crime decreased for the fifth consecutive year, should help assuage the fear that is stoked in online communities.


Part 1 Crime — murder, rape, robbery, burglary, aggravated assault and auto theft, among other offenses — decreased about 10 percent in 2018 compared to the year before, according to Westminster Police Department data. Such crime has decreased about 32 percent from 2013 through the end of 2018, the data shows. Even theft has dropped over time. There were 726 thefts in 2013 compared to 489 in 2018 — accounting for 78 percent of Westminster’s Part 1 crime throughout last year, according to the data.

Councilman Tony Chiavacci, the public safety committee liaison, told us he attributed the steady decrease to national trends, a solid economy, “a good community” and the Westminster police force’s work. Still, two heinous acts in a span of a few days can do a lot to change perception of a place, even though Mayor Joe Dominick pointed out at the March 11 meeting that “sometimes you have two things happen back-to-back and there’s no rhyme or reason … they were awful things.”

The police-involved shooting was an anomaly given that it was the first in Carroll County since 2012. The alleged rape in such a public place is the sort of incident that really scares residents. (A 2018 survey by Westminster’s Public Safety Advisory Council, found that most residents feel safe at home, but less so as they ventured into public areas, including downtown.)

“This type of incident of sexual assault is unacceptable and it’s not going to be tolerated in the city,” Councilman Ben Yingling said.

That’s the attitude that needs to be taken. And law enforcement and city officials realize they must not only combat crime but the internet-stoked perception that crime is worse than it really is. New Chief Thomas Ledwell understands that well. He recalled that when he headed the Frederick Police Department making presentations in which he would talk about arrests and crime statistics to community groups, he would notice that to the members of those groups “the numbers weren’t as important as the fact that they observed certain things, whether it was at their house or their business or walking in certain areas.”

Ledwell said the department has begun to implement tactics to combat the perception of crime, including getting himself and other officers certified for bike patrols, focusing more patrols to the downtown area, and planning a “coffee with cops” event — all aimed at increasing informal, face-to-face interaction between police officers and citizens. “The lesson learned and the teaching point is we should get out of our cars and get to know all of our citizens,” he told us. City Councilwoman Mona Becker also lauded the department’s increased social media presence.

We are encouraged that steps are being taken to be sure the statistical decline in crime in Westminster continues and that the city’s residents are kept informed. Because two incidents like Westminster had recently are tragic and can significantly change the way people feel about living in or visiting the city.