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Balto. County reports falling crime rate


Citing improved police-community cooperation and law enforcement, the Baltimore County Police Department yesterday released crime statistics for 1999 that show dramatic decreases in overall crime and a significant decline in serious violations like robbery, auto theft and rape.

While the number of homicides jumped to 30 last year compared with 22 in 1998, some crime categories reflected declines to lows not seen in 25 years, police said.

Police Chief Terrence B. Sheridan credited "basic police work, identifying the problem areas and dedicating the resources. Sometimes a problem might have required detectives and other times a situation might have called for bicycle officers."

Residents and community associations created a stronger front against crime by establishing contacts with precinct commanders and patrol officers along the county's seven primary commercial corridors.

Sheridan also said crime "hot spots" in Essex and Lansdowne were targeted by Community Action Teams, squads of officers that helped curb criminal activity.

A cooperative initiative with county agencies such as the departments of health and social services has also helped police establish a stronger foothold in some older neighborhoods, Sheridan said.

Countywide, the crime rate dropped 6.3 percent from 1998, with the largest declines in reported rapes and auto thefts. Overall crime has continued a two-year pattern of decreasing, with police saying burglaries, thefts, vehicle thefts and arson dropped 11.2 percent, bringing property crimes to a 25-year low.

"By our actions and with the ebb and flow of criminal activity, we want to keep that downward trend going," Sheridan said.

But in two categories - homicide and aggravated assault - the number of incidents increased from 1998.

There were 30 homicides in the county last year, compared with 22 in 1998, a 36 percent increase; and 4,146 aggravated assaults compared with 3,984 in 1998, a 4.1 percent increase.

Although only 16 homicides occurred by mid-1999, the number nearly doubled between September and December, with many of the crimes occurring in the eastern county's North Point precinct.

But police said that despite those increases, overall violent crime in 1999 was at the lowest point in the county since 1987.

Robberies dropped 9.2 percent, compared with 1998, although there was a 2.6 percent increase in the Towson precinct and a 20.3 percent increase in the Cockeysville precinct.

The sharpest decrease in robberies was in the Garrison precinct, where robberies dropped from 333 in 1998 to 271 last year, an 18.6 percent dip.

Officials also noted a significant decline countywide in rape, nearly 16 percent.

Overall, crime dropped in each of the county's nine precincts, most dramatically in Parkville and Wilkens, where the crime rate fell 10.3 percent and 8.7 percent, respectively.

Wilkens precinct commander Capt. John A. Spiroff said he analyzed crime trends and then increased officer presence in trouble spots.

"We have relentless officers who are addressing crime," Spiroff said, adding that officers are in contact with their counterparts in Baltimore City and Anne Arundel and Howard counties.

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