The surge in violent crimes in Howard County ebbed during the third quarter of this year -- and police officials said yesterday that the summer's "robbery suppression" program is one big reason why.
Money ran out for the 10-week program, which added patrols during the summer to target street crimes in Columbia's Town Center and Long Reach and Oakland Mills villages, Sgt. Steven Keller, a police spokesman, said in releasing the county's third-quarter crime statistics.
Street crimes had been surging during the second quarter of the year. The summer robbery suppression effort didn't decrease the number of street crimes in the targeted areas, but police credit it with slowing the increase in the third quarter.
County police will begin a similar patrol program soon in such commercial areas as The Mall in Columbia during the holiday season to help curtail the seasonal increase in auto thefts, street robberies and thefts from autos.
The new statistics may help to ease the fears of county residents who heard political ads describing crime as out-of-control in the county during the recent Howard County Circuit Court race.
Although the data show that the number of violent crimes such as homicide, rape, robbery and assault continue to grow, their rates of increase have fallen sharply since the first half of the year.
For example, crimes against people increased 24.7 percent in the first nine months of 1996, down from a 77.3 percent increase in the first six months of the year.
And property crime rates continue to decrease -- a trend since last year.
Community leaders say that while they can't prove that crime went down because of the robbery suppression program, residents' awareness lasted long after the police patrolled their neighborhoods.
"Things have been rather quiet in the village since the program ended," said David Hatch, chairman of the Oakland Mills Village Board. "Talking to residents, I haven't found quite the level of concern about crime. I think people are feeling a little more secure because of the activities of the police this summer."
Even without the program, Keller said, the trend in the county's number of violent crimes should continue for at least the next few months -- according to seasonal patterns.
"The number of muggings and street crimes almost always goes down during the cold winter months," Keller said. "Of course, we'd like to see no increase in those numbers at all, but anywhere where there's an increased number of people like you have in Howard County, you're going to have more crime."
Juvenile arrests for violent crimes increased 74.6 percent, from 63 arrests in the first three quarters in 1995 to 110 arrests in the same period in 1996.
More than half of those 1996 juvenile arrests were for robbery, which increased from 16 to 58 juvenile arrests.
Police officials have been working with county schools to combat the increase in juvenile crime.
"Everyone's always concerned about juvenile issues," said Cecilia Januszkiewicz, chairwoman of the village board in Long Reach, which was targeted by the suppression program. "People have real fears about large groups of unsupervised juveniles with time on their hands."
But some residents' perceptions of the crime problem are out of proportion with the actual crime problem, Januszkiewicz said. "I haven't heard any complaints about crime gone rampant from people in the community," she said.
Property crime totals from January through September have continued their downward trend. Such crimes -- including burglary, theft and vehicle thefts -- dropped 2.8 percent during the third quarter this year compared with the same period last year.
Police officials attribute the decrease to increased public awareness of police- and neighborhood-run crime-prevention programs.
But the numbers at times paint a confusing picture, Keller said.
For example, while there was an increase in burglary arrests, the number of burglaries decreased by 13.3 percent.
"It's very difficult to analyze numbers," he said. "We know that there are increases because of the changing population. I still think Howard County is one of the safest metropolitan communities in the area."
From July through September, one homicide was recorded, that of a 14-year-old Prince George's County girl whose body was found in a burning car in North Laurel in July.
The girl, identified as Teneisha Nikiya Whitfield of Capitol Heights, had been shot to death and was found in the passenger seat of a stolen white 1996 Honda Accord.
No one has been charged.
Serious Howard County crimes
Crimes reported during the first nine months of 1996, compared
with the first nine months of 1995.
Offense .. .. .. .. .. .. 1995 .. .. 1996 .. .. % change
Burglaries .. .. .. .. . 1,103 .. ... 956 .. .. .. -13.3
Rapes . .. .. .. .. .. .. . 22 .. .. . 27 .. .. ... 22.7
Homicides ... .. .. .. .. .. 2 .. .. .. 3 .. .. ... 50.0
Robberies ... .. .. .. ... 149 .. ... 203 .. .. ... 36.2
Assaults . .. .. .. .. ... 228 .. ... 267 .. .. ... 17.1
Thefts ... .. .. .. .. . 4,722 .. . 4,727 .. .. .. . 0.1
Vehicle thefts . .. .. ... 639 .. ... 598 .. .. ... -6.4
Total serious crimes . . 6,865 .. . 6,781 .. .. ... -1.2
Serious-crime arrests .. 1,200 .. . 1,308 .. .. ... 9.0
Adult arrests . .. .. .. . 724 .. ... 757 .. .. ... 4.6
Juvenile arrests . .. .. . 476 .. ... 551 .. .. .. 15.8
Source: Howard County Police Department, "9 Month Crime Report"
Pub Date: 12/04/96