"Any increase is cause for concern," Hagerstown Police Chief Dale J. Jones said.
But Jones stressed the importance of evaluating crime over a longer period. In the city, he said the five-year trend shows crime dipping and then creeping back up to levels of five years ago.
Jones also said that small numerical changes can result in large percentage swings in small jurisdictions. He pointed to a recent jump in auto thefts as an example.
"You can have a ring operating that can push up our numbers locally, whereas statewide, a few auto thefts won't have much of an effect," he said.
Jones said his department has made more arrests this year - particularly for drugs and prostitution.
Washington County Sheriff Charles F. Mades pointed to the drug problem as the leading culprit for increases in offenses such as robbery and burglary.
"There's money to be made selling drugs in this county because people in this county are willing to pay for them. That makes the stats run up," he said. "It's just a circle. If that circle's ever broken, you'll see a reduction."
If there is a strong link between drugs and other kinds of crimes, Washington County certainly has the fuel for the fire, officials said. Cpl. Robert Leatherman Jr., a member of the Washington County Narcotics Task Force, said the unit already has surpassed last year's total of 196 cases.
And last year set a record.
"We're going to be head and shoulders above last year," he said.
Mades said the pressing crime problems helped the county secure a federal grant to pay for eight new deputies.
"It didn't take long for the feds to see we need the people," he said.
Sgt. Laura Lu Herman, a Maryland State Police spokeswoman, downplayed the severity of the increase. She pointed the slight rise for the five western counties - 1.4 percent - as a positive sign.
"The increase in not that significant. It's certainly nothing that can't be turned around," she said.
Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II, said increased arrests mean officers are doing their job. He said he expects the crime rate to increase before the numbers begin declining.
Bruchey, who campaigned for more police officers when he was running for mayor, praised the most recent class of police recruits. But he acknowledged budgetary constraints.
"We'll never get to where we can be completely satisfied," he said.
Crime in Washington County
The following figures compare the first six months of 1997
and the first six months of 1996. 1997 1996
Murder 2 1Rape18 14Robbery 55 43Agg. Assault175 141Breaking and Entering 344 324Larceny/Theft 1,026 1,006Motor Vehicle Theft 129 88Arson* 47 41Total 1,749 1,617Change
*Arson crimes are collected differently than other index crimes and is not included in the crime index totals.
Source: Maryland State Police, Uniform Crime Reporting Program
Central Records Division