Violent crime in Baltimore County increased by 5.3 percent in the first half of 1992, and police say more of those crimes involved strangers -- a sign of the county's increasing urbanization.
Murders almost tripled, rising from eight between January and July last year to 23 this year. And two-thirds were committed by strangers -- a complete reversal of the proportion in less than a decade.
"Seven or eight years ago, in 85 percent of homicides, the victim and the assailant knew each other," said police spokesman E. Jay Miller.
Murders were frequently crimes of the moment -- the result of barroom arguments or domestic quarrels. But so far in 1992, 15 of the 23 murders have been attributed to strangers And seven of this year's murders remain unsolved.
The figures released yesterday show an overall 2.45 percent increase in crime, compared to the first half of 1991. A decrease in lesser offenses was offset by the increase in serious crime: murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, theft, car theft and arson.
Although the number of Baltimore County homicides is only a fraction of Baltimore City's, which this week recorded its 213th homicide, Mr. Miller said, "it's unusual that [the county's number of murders] is up this high at midyear."
The county's all-time high is 34 murders in one year. Mr. Miller said police expect the number of murders this year to "level out" to perhaps 31 or 32 by the end of the year.
In addition to murder, the statistics show increases in all other violent crimes. Rapes increased from 131 to 158; robbery from 1,020 to 1,064; and serious assault from 2,434 to 2,578. Reported child abuse dropped by 17 cases to 168.
Like murder, an increasing number of aggravated assaults were committed by strangers. At one time, 80 percent of attackers were known by their victims. In the first half of 1992, only 60.7 percent were known.
Handguns figured in 19.3 percent of violent crimes. Police confiscated 435 guns, including six assault weapons.
Property crimes increased by 922 cases to 18,950, while arson and motor vehicle theft decreased.
Police recovered more than 80 percent of the 2,774 stolen vehicles. Burglaries increased almost 11 percent; about three-quarters of those crimes were committed by people who forced their way through doors or windows.