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Officials ponder crime issue

The Baltimore Sun

Two were stabbed to death. Four were shot. Three bodies were found.

Last year, Harford County had nine homicides -- the highest number in the county since 1998.

Despite the rise in homicides, the number of major crimes reported in the county last year decreased by 3 percent from the previous year. When the rise in population is figured in, the crime rate decreased by 4 percent, according to statistics from the Maryland Uniform Crime Report of 2006, which examines seven major crime categories, ranging from homicides to car thefts.

Although the numbers of overall crime in the county decreased, the spike in homicides by 350 percent, rapes by 20 percent and car thefts by 21.7 percent had authorities looking for answers.

"It's hard, at this point, to comment on why the crimes increased to the extent it did," said county Sheriff L. Jesse Bane, who took office in December last year. "Sometimes you get an increase in crime rate because enforcement is better, or because you have a closer relationship with the citizens and they start to report more. I'm not saying that's what necessarily happened here."

He added that the population in Harford County increased last year, which tends to produce a rise crime. The county saw declines in aggravated assaults by 6.6 percent and thefts by 7.2 percent.

This year, there has been one homicide, which occurred New Year's Day. A 20-year-old man was found in a flowerbed in front of an Edgewood townhouse shot in his upper body. No one has been arrested in the killing.

The state's Uniform Crime Report, compiled by the state police and the three municipal police forces in Harford County -- Aberdeen, Bel Air and Havre de Grace -- shows that less crime last year than in 2005.

In Bel Air, the number of auto thefts increased from 23 to 30 last year, but larceny and thefts declined 16.2 percent. Havre de Grace had a 26.1 percent decrease in robbery, a 26.4 percent reduction in breaking and entering, and a 6.6 percent drop in assaults.

The report said Aberdeen had a 47.7 percent decrease in aggravated assaults, a 27.5 percent decline in breaking and entering and a 7.5 percent reduction in auto thefts in 2006.

Mayor Fred Simmons credited Aberdeen's police officers, whom he described as the "best and brightest."

"They are multitaskers," he said. "These people do it all, from serious crimes like rape, robbery and the small things."

He also pointed to input from citizens.

Community's role

"The community is reaching out to our law enforcement officers," he said. "They're helping them be proactive. They're doing things to keep crimes from occurring and taking care of their neighborhoods themselves."

Last year, the city formed a Rapid Response Team to take tips from the community and focus on problem areas, said Police Chief Randy Rudy.

Harford County deputies will be focusing on being more active in preventing crimes rather than reacting to them this summer, Bane said.

"We've identified problem areas based on calls for service," he said of juvenile crimes. "We can be predictive because we know kids are going to be out on weekends and evenings, and we'll have preventive patrols in place where the kids hang out."

Meanwhile, Bane has pushed for a different approach to policing, including the implementation of CompStat in the sheriff's office. CompStat is a crime-mapping system, initiated in New York City in the 1990s, which analyzes data to focus resources on trouble areas.

Cities such as Boston and Baltimore, as well as smaller municipalities such as Lowell, Mass., have used a form of CompStat. Law enforcement officers conduct meetings to map crime, identify patterns and develop strategies to tackle the problems.

Phyllis McDonald, who worked with the New York Transit Police during CompStat's inception and wrote a textbook on the subject, led training classes for Harford sheriff's deputies last week.

"It's a system to manage operations, to specialize units and set definite objectives," said McDonald, director of research in the Division of Public Safety Leadership at the Johns Hopkins University. "It's a different approach in management and realigning resources."

Traditional policing

The traditional way of policing was more reactive and relied on deputies riding in patrol cars, responding to calls for service, filing a report and sending it to the detective, Bane said.

"We can't continue to police Harford County, with the way it is growing, like we did in 1972," Bane said. "It was very rural back then. We didn't have a gang problem or a drug problem to the extent that we have. It doesn't make sense to distribute those resources geographically. It makes more sense to distribute resources where the crime problems are."

Bane has added a crime analyst to the sheriff's office and hopes to add another for a total of three to examine data.

The office will begin using CompStat this summer, although a start date has not been set.

Crime data

Includes data from the Harford County Sheriff's Office, the Maryland State Police and the police departments in Aberdeen, Bel Air and Havre de Grace.

Crime 2005 2006

Homicide 2 9

Rape 30 36

Robbery 193 202

Aggravated assault 620 579

Breaking and entering 961 990

Larceny- theft 3,591 3,332

Motor vehicle theft 359 437

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