Harford's 'safe' municipalities [Editorial]

The Aegis

As we reported last week, the three Harford County municipalities are ranked among the safest towns in Maryland in 2018, according to the National Council for Home Safety and Security, a trade organization for the home security systems industry.

Aberdeen ranks fourth, Havre de Grace fifth and Bel Air eighth, in terms of rates of violent and property crimes, according to the safety council. Two ot the three improved, with Aberdeen rising from 15th and Havre de Grace from 10th, while Bel Air fell one spot from ninth.

Such rankings have merit and leaders of local police departments and municipal governments had every right to crow a little bit about them, as was the case last week in both Aberdeen and Bel Air.

It’s also necessary to point out, however, that being “safe” is a relative term. Certainly all three local towns are safer than Baltimore City, but there are other places nearby, including within Harford County that would probably rank safer if they were standalone municipalities, maybe not.

Let’s also keep in mind that the organization doing the rankings is comprised of companies that make, market and install home security systems, and disseminating such rankings is a way of grabbing attention on the internet, with the ultimate goal of selling more security systems. Or, in the National Council for Home Safety and Security’s own words, its goal is to “further industry education and public knowledge about home safety and security.”

The rankings are, however, based on FBI uniform statistics of violent and property crimes for each jurisdiction, which are in turn quoted in this study per 1,000 people in order to equalize them for population. So, assuming the standards were applied equally by those preparing the rankings, then we will assume them to be an accurate measure of “safeness” in the eyes of the beholders.

Aberdeen, population 15,704, had 79 violent crimes and 251 property crimes, according to the report, which works to 5.03 and 15.98 per 1,000 population, respectively. Havre de Grace, population 13,604, had fewer violent crimes than Aberdeen, 37 – 2.72 per 1,000 people, but more property crimes, 308 – 22.64 per 1,000. Bel Air, population 10,200, had 22 violent crimes – 21.6 per 1,000 people – and 225 property crimes – 25 per 1,000 people.

The rankings provide “documented, quantifiable evidence of our standing and our success,” Aberdeen City Manager Randy Robertson said in a recent email. “Not only are we the fourth most safe city in the state, as measured through FBI statistics, but the safest city in Harford County.”

Well, yes and no. We would say there certainly is a public perception that Aberdeen is not as safe as Harford County’s other two municipalities, particularly compared with Bel Air that is two-thirds smaller population wise. All three have had their share of violent incidents, but only Havre de Grace (one in 2017) and Aberdeen (three in 2016) have had murders in recent years.

What we do know from our own experience in reporting on crime in all three Harford County municipalities is that the Aberdeen Police Department is far and away more conscientious and complete in reporting to the media about violent incidents, as well as in giving daily reports of calls/incidents and arrests, when compared with the police departments in Bel Air and Havre de Grace.

That’s a choice made by Chief Henry Trabert and his command staff, and the department does indeed have three officers trained in working with the media and available at most times. And, yes, that entails a cost to taxpayers, but the trade-off is people are well informed about what is happening in their town and when they are, tend to cooperate in reporting suspicious incidents.

So, while Aberdeen may indeed appear to have more crime based on reporting in The Aegis and other media, the FBI numbers do in fact tell a different story for the most recent reporting period. So, for this year, at least, Aberdeen certainly is justified in taking pride in the city’s relative safety when it comes ranking to both Harford County and Maryland municipalities.

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