Crime in Maryland fell to its lowest level since the federal government began compiling such statistics in 1975, Gov. Martin O'Malley's office announced Wednesday.
The state reported that total crime dropped 4.8 percent in 2011, and homicides decreased 6.6 percent to 398 — the lowest total since 1985 and the lowest ever reported by Maryland on a per-capita basis.
Property crime rates also hit record low levels last year, including the categories of breaking and entering, larceny and auto theft. Only in the category of rape, which declined 2.6 percent over the previous year, did the state fail to post the lowest rate so far this century.
O'Malley claimed credit for the reductions. His office said that under his administration, violent crime has decreased 24.4 percent — outpacing its initial goal of a 20 percent reduction. The administration also pointed to statistics showing a 36 percent decline in juvenile homicides and an 11.8 percent drop in killings of women.
"Working together with our local, state, and federal partners in law enforcement and community and neighborhood leaders across the State, we've driven down crime to its lowest levels since 1975," O'Malley's statement said. "But there is still more work to do as just one life lost to violence is one too many. It takes all of us to make Maryland a safer place for our families and children."
Bill Toohey, spokesman for the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention, said the administration has been bringing various police agencies and sheriff's departments together to work on such projects as rounding up offenders with outstanding warrants.
Gary LaFree, professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of Maryland, College Park, said taking credit for a drop in crime is "like taking credit for a solar eclipse."
"The trend far preceded the current administration, but it's good to see it continuing," he said.
LaFree said the decline in Maryland crime is part of a broad-based trend that goes back to the 1990s. He said the recent declines run counter to the late 20th-century trend in which crime generally went up during economic downturns. In the recent recession, he said, that didn't happen.
One reason for the trend-bucking declines, he said, is improved law enforcement — particularly a greater emphasis among police on working with the communities they patrol. Another factor, LaFree said, is an increase in immigration. Contrary to popular perception, he said, immigrants commit fewer crimes on average than people born in the United States. As their numbers increase, he said, per-capita crime rates go down.
Larry Harmel, executive director of the Maryland Chiefs of Police Association, said the O'Malley administration's policies have helped reduce crime but are far from the only factor.
"In fairness, they can take credit for better cooperation and communication," said Harmel, a former chief of the Maryland Transportation Authority Police.