How good were Baltimore County's crime statistics for the first half of 1993? County government and police officials staged a press conference to announce the figures, that's how good -- down 6.5 percent compared with the same period in 1992.
Yet hidden amid the happier numbers was some disquieting information about the jump in Towson crime from January through June of this year. Of the county's nine police precincts, only Towson's reported an increase in Part I crimes, which include murder, rape, robbery, assault and burglary. The Towson precinct had the biggest boosts by far in the categories of robbery, aggravated assault and total violent crime. And it was the only precinct with an uptick -- 3.3. percent -- in overall crime.
Underscoring these stats and adding to the general perception of a rise in crime is a recent spate of robberies of convenience stores, banks and gas stations on arteries just north of Baltimore.
Police officials blame the surge partly on the heightened traffic Towson Town Center and Towson Commons have brought to an area that no longer rolls up its sidewalks after 5 p.m. Also, the proximity of Towson to the city, along with the access afforded by the major roads linking the two localities, has made the county seat a ripe target for city-based criminals. Indeed, if anyone still needs to be informed, these incidents remind us yet again that the portion of the county nearest Baltimore has largely become an extension of the city.
County Executive Roger Hayden, his re-election campaign looming, has addressed the situation with various initiatives this year -- small cash grants for communities that devise crime-prevention methods; approval for county police to wear their uniforms when moonlighting as private security guards; funds for three new police cadet classes and the creation of a crime-stopping advisory group. Meanwhile, the Towson precinct hopes to beef up street patrols, but there are only so many bodies the cash-strapped department can spare. The county force has 200 fewer members than a year ago and the 150 or so new cadets won't be ready for duty until late 1994.
These steps, while commendable, don't go far enough. The startling crime figures for Towson should motivate Mr. Hayden and the County Council to find ways of bolstering the local police presence. More officers could be hired. Current members of the force could be paid for overtime duty. If the problem is as serious as these recent numbers suggest, then serious remedies are required.