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Smithsburg sees increase in crime in '03

January 12, 2004|by BRIAN SHAPPELL

shappell@herald-mail.com

SMITHSBURG - Crime in Smithsburg more than doubled in 2003 among 16 categories, according to a Smithsburg Police Department report.

And as the population of the county's fastest-growing municipality continued to balloon, so did the number of assaults and property destruction incidents, many of which were committed by juveniles, Police Chief Mike Potter said.

Both the number of calls for service (1,836) and incidents leading to arrests or criminal charges (197 over 16 categories) in 2003 exceed that of the previous year, according to the report. In 2002, there were 1,686 calls for service and 90 incidents involving arrests or charges in the same 16 categories.

The largest increases, based on percentage, dealt with assaults and property destruction.

The report states that incidents involving destruction of property and simple assault more than tripled. However, the highest overall total, 41, was in the category of theft.

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Other significant increases were reported in these categories:

  • Aggravated assault, from one incident in 2002 to six in 2003.

  • Illegal possession of alcohol, from two in 2002 to 10 in 2003.

  • Vandalism, from one in 2002 to 14 in 2003.


"A lot of the crimes you see here are juvenile-related," Potter said.

At last Tuesday's Smithsburg Town Council meeting, he said many of the incidents involving juveniles are happening at local schools.

During the 2002-03 school year, there were 83 calls for service at Smithsburg High School, 22 of which ended in arrests. The arrest total was third among seven area high schools. Only North Hagerstown and South Hagerstown high schools had more.

By comparison, there were 59 calls and six arrests at Smithsburg High School during the 2001-02 school year.

"We do spend a lot of time up there," Potter said.

Potter said the Citizen-Police Advisory Committee is working to create more programs, including dances, to help curb juvenile offenses by giving young people more to do.

"I think that certainly will have an impact on the number of arrests," Potter said.

Another key factor to the increase in crime is the sharp population increase in the town, Potter said.

"I think part of it is it's still growing, and younger families are moving into the area," he said.

Population statistics from the 2000 Census, released in March 2001, revealed Smithsburg was by far the municipality growing the most, by percentage, in Washington County. The statistics, a result of the head count the U.S. Census Bureau took using mailed surveys, door-to-door counts and revisions made after officials in some towns appealed or questioned the initial results, said Smithsburg's population growth from 1990 to 2000 was 76 percent.

Updated population estimates by the bureau, released in July 2003, said Smithsburg's population increased by 178 residents in the 2000 report. The bureau's updated population estimate put the town's population at 2,324.

However, Mayor Mildred "Mickey" Myers said the town population likely has grown by at least 100 more people since that estimate was completed.

Past and present officials have attributed the town's growth to the addition of housing developments.

The continued spike in population has forced the town to add several new employees to provide services to residents. The Smithsburg Police Department was no exception, as it added James "J.R." Bowers to the force as a third full-time officer.

Potter said since October, when Bowers became eligible to work without supervision, police have improved coverage of the town with less help from the Washington County Sheriff's Department. He also said the increased number of arrests in 2003 could be, in part, attributed to the additional police presence made possible by the larger staff.

"I'd say we're handling about 90 percent of the crimes in the town," Potter said.

He said the department now schedules 10-hour, rotating shifts that allow for seven-day coverage for the first time in the history of the department.

Potter said there are no immediate plans for the department to add another officer, though it may be unavoidable if the population continues to grow at the rate of the past decade.

"We haven't analyzed that right now, but I'm sure at some point in the near future they'll need a fourth officer for the growth," Potter said.

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