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Crime falls, but arsons rise

August 16, 1999|By MARLO BARNHART

The number of arsons in Washington County more than doubled during the first three months of 1999, the only blemish on an otherwise upbeat crime report that showed a 19.5 percent drop in seven major categories over the same quarter last year.

Compiled by the Maryland State Police in Pikesville, the January-March figures show arsons in Washington County at 18, up from eight during the same period in 1998, a 125 percent increase.

"Of those 18, we handled eight in the county," said Ted Meminger, deputy chief state fire marshal for the western region.

The other 10 were within Hagerstown city limits and were investigated by the Hagerstown fire marshal's office.

Most of the 18 fires were set by children, local fire officials said.

"Probably nine of the arsons in the city were set by children," said John Hersh, a Hagerstown fire marshal. "It's alarming."

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Arson figures for the city through the first seven months of 1999 indicate the situation's not getting any better, Hersh said.

There were 28 arsons through the end of July, Hersh said. "And it's not like we aren't catching them - we have made 36 arrests, many of them juveniles," he said.

Hersh made three more juvenile arrests Monday afternoon after fires were set at Washington Garden apartments.

"Two of the boys are 12 and one is 15, all charged with malicious burning," Hersh said.

Meminger said he's having the same problem - six of the eight arsons outside Hagerstown city limits during the first quarter were set by children.

In the Western Maryland region, which includes Carroll, Frederick, Washington, Allegany and Garrett counties, overall crime dropped 14.3 percent, with the biggest plunge in assaults and break-ins.

All eight major categories of crime declined in Washington County during 1998, an overall drop in Washington County of 6.4 percent compared to the previous year.

Violent crime for reporting purposes is described as murder, forcible rape, robbery and aggravated assault.

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