Crime in Baltimore County continued to decline in the first half of this year, according to police figures released yesterday, with homicides in particular dipping to the lowest level in two decades -- six in the first six months of 1999.
Other violent crimes also dropped significantly during the first six months compared with the same period a year ago. Reported rapes dropped 21 percent and robbery was down 13 percent.
Overall violent crime was down 3.7 percent, while all crimes declined 7.3 percent.
Police Chief Terrence B. Sheridan attributed the decreases to a recognition that crime is not tolerated in Baltimore County and will be seriously punished by police and the courts.
"You have to be encouraged by the numbers, but we have to be ever-vigilant," he said.
Sheridan noted several factors in the lower crime rate, especially a more aggressive approach to handling domestic violence complaints.
"The state's attorney's office is active. The judiciary is active. I think when we have an allegation of domestic violence we investigate it thoroughly," he said.
He also noted that gun seizures are up, and said, "The more weapons we seize from criminals, we lower the probability of using that gun in another crime."
Property crime was down 10.5 percent, led by a 19.8 percent drop in motor vehicle theft. Theft dropped 9.8 percent, and burglaries fell 8.1 percent.
Although most categories of robberies declined, bank robberies increased, from 17 in the first six months of 1998 to 20 the first six months of this year. However, police officials said that bank robberies during the first half of 1998 were unusually low.
And while the number of motor vehicle thefts is at its lowest in five years, the rate of recovering stolen vehicles is at a 13-year low.
Sheridan said the lower recovery rate is due to the decrease in joy riders who later abandon stolen cars. Instead, the county is seeing an increase in professional thieves who sell cars to chop shops or export them for sale.
But Sheridan noted that the decrease in car thefts in general is due to more anti-theft devices being used in automobiles and better coordinated detective work.
"We know where cars are being dumped and being stolen and use that information in planning our tactics and catching [thieves]," said the chief.
Police said the most commonly stolen vehicles in Baltimore County included the Honda Accord, Dodge Caravan, Jeep Cherokee and Plymouth Voyager.
Crime 1999 1998 % change
Homicide 6 8 -25
Rape 90 114 -21
Robbery 794 913 -13
Assault 2,044 2,012 +1.6
Crime 2,934 3,047 -3.7%
Burglary 2,912 3,168 -8.1%
Theft 10,031 11,116 -9.8
Theft 1,408 1,756 -19.8
NOTE: Not all nonviolent crime categories are listed above.
SOURCE: Baltimore County Police Department