Howard County's crime rate dropped less than 1 percent in the past year, with a 38-percent decrease reported in armed robberies, county police records said.

The stable crime rate reflects a comparativelyquiet metropolitan county that traditionally has not seen significant crime overflow from the nearby cities, said police spokesman Gary L. Gardner.


"We haven't seen much of the violence associated with the big-city drug crime," Gardner said. "We've been very fortunate in that regard."

Reported murders dropped from nine in 1989 -- the department'sworst-year ever for homicides -- to five in 1990.


Along with the decrease in armed robberies, which fell from 97 incidents in 1989 to 60 in 1990, police also report a 53-percent drop in unarmed robberies.

Aggravated assaults rose 21 percent in 1990, from 335 to 408. Residential burglaries increased 13 percent, while eight more rapes were reported in the county.

Overall, violent crimes -- defined as murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault -- rose less than 1 percent in the past year, police said.

Police say that community efforts, such as a neighborhood liaison program, seem to be playing a role in crime prevention. Total reported drug offenses decreased 25 percent, from 681 to 505, a statistic that neighborhood residents believe reflects their crime-fighting efforts.

The liaison program has enlisted people in 25 neighborhoods to act as the contact person for police. In some neighborhoods where crime has typically hit hard in the past, community meetings and nightly crime watches have been established.

"We've noticed a real decrease in drug-related problems in ourneighborhood," said Deby Keyser, a liaison for the Canterbury Ridingneighborhood. "We put the heat on drug abusers to get out of the neighborhood, and now the problem seems to have faded into the woodwork."

At Canterbury Riding, a Laurel neighborhood that has seen its share of drug problems, residents have developed a "networking system" in which everyone has access to police information released to the liaison officer, Keyser said.

"The police let us know if there has been a series of crimes, and we in turn let people know what they haveto be watching out for," she said. Recently, a would-be car thief and a suspected burglar were arrested after police received tips from residents, Keyser said.


Kathy Bernard, the liaison for the Fulton-area neighborhood of Cardinal Forest, said the past year seemed to be particularly light for community crime.

"We had very few problems in our neighborhood, and we're hoping it stays that way," Bernard said.

Police report that use of the hallucinogens PCP and LSD, which in recent years have been making a comeback in the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area, seemed to taper off in 1990.

Fifteen people were arrested for the sale or manufacture of PCP in the past year, compared to 43 arrests in 1989. Arrests for possession of the drug alsodecreased, from 48 to 33. LSD arrests fell from 26 to 17.

Drunkendriving arrests declined slightly in 1990, from 1,538 to 1,320.

Police report that they received 16 complaints of police excessive force in the last year, compared to 15 in 1989.


"We feel that the figure is fairly slight, especially since we've been labeled as having a'mushrooming' police brutality problem," Gardner said. The department last year had the dubious honor of receiving the NAACP's "Dirty Harry Award," given to police agencies deemed to have serious excessive force problems.

Of the brutality complaints filed, a county policeinternal affairs division ruled seven complaints unfounded and four not sustained. Five of the cases remain open, police said.