About a quarter of Anne Arundel County residents believe crime is the county’s most concerning issue, according to a survey from Anne Arundel Community College.
The poll found that 26% of respondents rated crime as the “most important problem facing the residents of Anne Arundel County” this year. Only 13% considered it the top problem last fall when the seriousness of COVID-19 was the most cited issue in the survey.
Concern about drugs — the use or sale of illegal drugs such as heroin, cocaine, or use of prescription painkillers for nonmedical purposes — fared similarly with 20% of respondents saying it is the most important issue compared to 9% last fall.
COVID-19 was the top concern last fall with 35% rating it as the county’s biggest issue compared to 14% this year, said Dan Nataf, an Anne Arundel Community College professor, who conducts the biannual poll.
“I didn’t anticipate there would be such a turn to crime and drugs,” Nataf said. “It’s so hard to know the process by which people come to a decision about crime because crime is not one thing.”
County Executive Steuart Pittman was less surprised about the survey results.
“There is a general sense that we’ve been through very difficult times and what’s next. There’s an unsettled feeling in the public. We all feel it after being through a pandemic, tornadoes, we’ve had sea-level rise and political conflict,” Pittman said. “The crimes that are slightly up, a lot of them are domestic and they’re resulting from a lot of the sense of unease and mental health issues.”
Though some domestic crimes may be on a slight upward trajectory, Pittman said Anne Arundel County is one of the only jurisdictions in the area experiencing a general decline in reported crimes.
As of mid-March, three homicides had been investigated by Anne Arundel County Police this year. As of mid-March, 2021, four had been investigated, Jacklyn Davis, a police department spokesperson said at a March news conference.
“Even when crime is going down it’s still a huge problem and it’s a priority for us to reduce it,” Pittman said. “I don’t want to give people a sense we don’t have a crime problem. We do.”
Outside of direct interactions with law enforcement, people are mostly made aware of crime through the media, said Nataf.
Another factor could be how differing approaches to crime have been hotly debated in politics in recent years, especially during an election year.
“There’s a polarization left-right. The right wing is always saying more police, more police — they’re the solution to crime as if there were no other underlying conditions producing a propensity to crime,” Nataf said. “The left is much more complicated because it’s always looking for root causes and root causes are hard to explain and elusive in terms of solutions.”
Several of the survey comments cited crime as a concern, with one respondent directly attributing a perceived increase in crime to liberal ideology.
“Their [Democrats] ‘defund the police’ movement has increased crime tremendously,” one participant wrote.
However, Anne Arundel County’s police budget has increased every year since 2018, when Pittman took office. Between 2021 and 2022 the department’s budget was increased by about $16 million.
Pittman agreed political rhetoric may be contributing to the concern, but said crime is “fair game” in political battles.
“Politicians always look for issues to mobilize and sometimes scare voters into acting, and crime has historically been near the top of the list of ways to scare people, but it’s a real issue,” Pittman said.
Nataf said the council districts most concerned about crime were some of the ones closest to Baltimore, including Districts 2 and 3, and District 6, which encompasses Annapolis.
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“Two of the three northern districts have unusually high values over the ‘this has gotten worse’ answer about crime. The overall number was 59%. In Districts 2 and 3 it was 69% and 71% [respectively] so that’s beyond the margin of error,” Nataf said. “That could tell you that it’s an urban phenomenon, maybe there’s something about urban city life, proximity to Baltimore that could be playing a role in determining people’s attitudes about crime.”
Some of the survey respondents would appear to confirm this theory, including one who described Baltimore as “a cesspool of crime and corruption.”
“There has been increased crime in Annapolis and at Arundel Mills Mall. Shoppers need to feel safe,” another wrote.
Pittman said that, even if the perception is different from the statistics about crime, it’s still something he knows is a major issue.
“It doesn’t bother me that the perception is higher than the reality right now,” Pittman said. “We have work to do still.”
He noted that residents will see the administration’s dedication to combatting crime clearly in his proposed fiscal 2023 budget, which comes out next week.
The Anne Arundel Community College Poll surveyed 514 Maryland adults from March 18 to April 1 and has a margin of error of 4.3%.