For the first time in more than a year, crime, not the economy, tops county residents' list of countywide problems, according to a poll released yesterday by the Anne Arundel Community College Center for the Study of Local Issues.
The economy had topped the list of problems in surveys released in March 1992, October 1992 and March 1993, said E. Perry Ballard, director of the center.
The change didn't surprise Police Chief Robert Russell.
"People are influenced by what they see, and we've been seeing some highly publicized crimes throughout the nation -- the Rodney King trial, the Reginald Denny trial -- so I'm not surprised a survey would reveal crime was a major concern," he said.
"Locally, we had a very tragic homicide in the Arnold section, and that was followed by the senseless homicide that occurred at the Dunkin' Donuts," he said, referring to the shooting of Joanne S. Valentine in the driveway of her home last month and the death of Charles H. Willis, 21, who was gunned down Aug. 25 in a Dunkin' Donuts on Ritchie Highway in a dispute over a pen.
"People are concerned about their safety, and whether they should stop by Dunkin' Donuts for a cup of coffee," the chief said. "But the true picture of crime in this county would not support [impressions] that it is rampant and out of control."
He said figures for the first six months of this year showed a 10 percent rise in violent crime, but he attributed that to an increase in aggravated assaults. Crimes such as burglary dropped 2.5 percent in the first six months of the year.
Taxes and the economy did take second place in the survey, with 16.5 percent of those questioned putting those issues at the top of their list.
"About half, 50.4 percent, view the local economy as about the same as last year," Mr. Ballard said. About 34 percent of the respondents said they felt the local economy was worse than it was last year, and about 15.4 percent said they thought it was better.
The survey showed continuing pessimism about the national economy, with 65.4 percent of the respondents saying they did not expect to see any significant improvement over the next year.
County residents also were critical of state and local government. About 59 percent of those surveyed expressed a lack of trust in local government, and 68 percent showed little faith in state government.
"The survey found 88.6 percent of the respondents believe the Maryland General Assembly is less responsive to economic needs of the people in the state," Mr. Ballard said in a news release. More then 87 percent said they would limit the number of terms a state legislator may serve, and 78 percent said legislative paychecks should be cut to reduce the number of career legislators.
But the question of who should be the next Democratic and Republican candidates for governor led to an anomaly, said Hall Counihan, assistant dean and chairman of the college's social sciences division.
The survey was completed the day County Executive Robert R. Neall withdrew from the governor's race and weeks after Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke had pulled out. But 22.7 percent said Mr. Neall should be the next Republican candidate, and 12 percent thought Mr. Schmoke should be the next Democratic candidate for governor.
"He was a noncandidate. That's remarkable," Dr. Counihan said.
Moreover, center officials were surprised that Mr. Schmoke had such a high rating in a traditionally conservative county, Dr. Counihan said.
Meanwhile, Prince George's County Executive Parris N. Glendening, whom many Democrats consider one of the top Democratic candidates, was mentioned by only 3.7 percent, Dr. Counihan said.
Name recognition might explain why Mr. Schmoke did so well and Mr. Glendening so poorly, Dr. Counihan suggested. Mr. Schmoke's name is mentioned regularly on national television shows such as David Letterman's late-night program, he noted.
But Dr. Counihan and Mr. Ballard agreed that it might simply be too early to ask residents about the gubernatorial election in 1994, since more than 62 percent of those responding to the survey replied "don't know" when asked to provide the name of a leading Democratic or Republican candidate.