Statewide, a 16 percent drop in murders fueled the overall 7 percent decrease in the eight categories of major crime, according to the state police figures.
The statewide figures show a continuation of a trend that began in 1995. State officials attributed the drop to aggressive efforts of police agencies.
Crime fell in 14 counties and Baltimore City. Despite Washington County's 1.8 percent crime rate increase, the rate in the Western Maryland region - which includes Allegany, Carroll, Frederick, Garrett and Washington counties - dropped by 0.1 percent.
The nine-month figures indicate that the county's crime rate increased at a much slower pace than it did during the first six months of the year. But 1st Sgt. Doug Mullendore said Washington County Sheriff's Department statistics show the county will record a hefty increase for the entire year.
"It has slowed down slightly, but not that much," he said.
One of the largest increases came in motor vehicle thefts, which jumped from 150 during the first nine months of 1996 to 254 over the same period last year. Mullendore said there also has been a large increase in thefts from autos.
"That's probably one of the biggest contributors," he said.
Lt. Donnie Knott, commander of the Maryland State Police barracks in Hagerstown, said year-end statistics probably will show a continuation of that trend.
"I would suspect that the fourth quarter numbers will probably be even more of a large difference," he said. "The park-and-rides have been hit particularly hard."
Knott said police have stepped up patrols of those commuter parking lots. Police also plan to set up surveillance cameras to catch thieves in the act, he said.
Knott said he will seek better cooperation among the state police, sheriff's department and city police.
The same goes for drugs, said Knott, who pointed to better coordination between the Washington County Narcotics Task Force and the DEA drug task force as a goal for 1998.
Increased drug activity also leads to assaults and other violent crimes, according to police.
Mullendore said he has seen a marked increase in those types of crimes.
"We're making a lot more arrests as a result," he said.
The department arrested 30 percent more adults in 1997 than in 1996 and 52.5 percent more juveniles, Mullendore said.
For the entire year, the department investigated 120 percent more rapes, 18 percent more felonious assaults, 9.9 percent more burglaries and 39 percent more auto thefts. Robberies, the only category to show a decline, fell 15 percent, Mullendore said.
Another area of concern is domestic violence.
The sheriff's department made 32 percent more arrests for domestic violence, Mullendore said. But he said that increase may be due more to better reporting and changes in the law that require officers to make arrests than to an actual increase in domestic violence.
Mullendore said he expects cases of domestic violence eventually to decrease.
"When we do make an arrest, repeat calls to some of those addresses are down," he said. "It is working."