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Howard violent crime rate drops, but homicides double

By Kellie Woodhouse
Violent crimes — including rapes, aggravated assaults and robberies — decreased in Howard County last year, although the number of homicides was double the previous year, according to police statistics released this month.

Rapes and aggravated assault each dropped by at least 20 percent, while robberies were down 16 percent and thefts are down 6.7 percent, according to preliminary police statistics that compare the first 11 months of 2010 to the first 11 months of 2009. The statistics include a select sampling of crimes and do not include such crimes as car thefts or arrests made in violent crime cases.

“These numbers represent a combined effort of law enforcement and citizens to address crime issues together,” police Chief William McMahon said in a statement. “I am grateful to have such a collaborative relationship with our community and look forward to continued cooperation.”

While homicides rose from two in 2009 to four in 2010, the five-year average of homicides from 2005 to 2009 was 3.8, so the number of homicides was on a par with the county average in most recent years. The number of homicides in 2009 was the lowest since 2004.

All four homicides last year were domestic slayings, according to police.

The statistics do not include the homicide of Susan Sachs, a prisoner who police say was killed by a fellow inmate at Clifton T. Perkins Hospital, in Jessup, a state hospital for the criminally insane.

The biggest decrease in violent crimes was a 30 percent drop in aggravated assaults in the first 11 months of 2010. In 2009 there were 412 such incidents from January to November. But in 2010 that number dropped to 288 during those same months.

Police say the decrease is partially attributed to a change in the way the state requires assaults to be reported. In 2010, police no longer classified certain types of choking incidents as aggravated assaults, a change from previous years.

There were 38 fewer robberies from January through November in 2010 than during the same months in 2009, according to police statistics.

There were also nine fewer rapes in 2010 than the year before, according to police statistics that include all 12 months of 2010.

Theft cases from January to November of 2010 decreased from 4,946 in 2009 to 4,612.

However, burglaries increased by 13 percent. Police say the increase can be primarily attributed to three separate incidents in 2010 in which 179 storage units were burglarized. In each incident, each storage unit was counted as a separate burglary.

According to police, detectives have arrested suspects believed to be responsible for 159 of the storage shed burglaries.

Police spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn said the dip in violent crimes could not be attributed to any recent police innovation.

“Trends rise sometimes and decrease sometimes,” Llewellyn said. “When we see reductions like this we believe very strongly that those are because of the relationships that we have with the community.”

Llewellyn said the police department has several community outreach officers and entities, including school resource officers throughout the county, liaisons with Korean- and Spanish-speaking communities and community offices in Wilde Lake, Oakland Mills, North Laurel, Long Reach and Harper’s Choice.

Sandra Gray, chairwoman of the Long Reach community organization Better Together, which works with police to enhance the Columbia village, said that because of residents’ increased involvement, crime in Long Reach has decreased significantly in the past few years.

“People are paying more attention to what’s important to the community and there are a few Neighborhood Watch groups around,” she said. “Neighbors are supporting neighbors.”

Howard County Citizens Association President Cathy Hudson said Howard County’s low violent crime rate compared to neighboring jurisdictions such as Baltimore and Prince George’s counties is key to its regional appeal.

“People live in this community because they want to be safe and have their families be safe,” she said.