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Crime increases in Washington County

June 27, 1997

By BRENDAN KIRBY

Staff Writer

Crime in Maryland took a nosedive during the first three months of 1997, but rose sharply in Washington County over the same period, according to statistics released Thursday by the Maryland State Police Uniform Crime Reporting System.

There was a 6 percent drop in eight major categories of crime in Maryland in the first quarter of 1997 compared with the first three months of 1996, the statistics showed.

Even more dramatic was a 14 percent statewide decrease in violent crime.

Despite the declining numbers across the state, Western Maryland, and Washington County in particular, experienced an increase in both property and violent crime.

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Washington County, which logged a total increase of 17.6 percent, had the third largest jump in the state. The county's crime rate increased in all eight categories.

The increase follows a 2.8 percent increase in crime in the county between 1995 and 1996.

Officials were at a loss to explain why crime jumped in Washington County but declined elsewhere.

Maryland State Police spokeswoman Sgt. Laura Lu Herman cautioned against placing too much emphasis on one three-month period. She also noted that small changes in the numbers can lead to dramatic swings in the percentages.

For instance, the number of rapes reported in Washington County during the first quarter increased from six to 11. That equals a percentage increase of 83 percent.

"There are a number of factors to which to attribute fluctuations in the crime rate, in a positive direction or a negative direction," Herman said.

Some local officials seized on the numbers as evidence that county resources are stretched too thin.

"I'm not surprised at all," said one police official, who asked not to be identified. "The resources are spread about as thin as they can get It's getting worse all the time."

Hagerstown Police Chief Dale J. Jones said rising crime along with complaints from several neighborhoods led officials to launch several initiatives, such as overtime patrols and cooperative efforts with the Washington County Narcotics Task Force.

Jones said it is too early to tell if the increase in crime is a trend or an aberration.

"In the meantime, we don't want to wait," he said. "We want to be proactive."

Jones said the overtime patrols will continue through the summer. He also said the department expects five officers who just graduated from the Police Academy to join the department in October. At about that time, he said, police hope to begin assembling a crime-impact team, which will hit the streets in full force next year.

Jones said grant money from the Hot Spots Community Initiative, an anti-crime endeavor, also will help.

Taken together, Jones said, the efforts have begun to have an effect.

"Nothing earth-shattering at this point, but we feel like we're holding ground," he said. "There's a lot of stuff in the pipeline."

The following figures compare the first three months of 1997 and the first three months of 1996.

 19971996Murder 1  0 Rape11 6  Robbery29  23Agg. Assault  81 70Breaking and Entering  189 173Larceny/Theft  548 481 Motor Vehicle Theft 83 48Arson*  2012  Total 942 801

Source: Maryland State Police, Uniform Crime Reporting Program Central Records Division

*Arson crimes are collected differently than other index crimes and is not included in the crime index totals.

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