By Vandana Sinha
WASHINGTON – Crime in Maryland dipped 3.1 percent last year, the first statewide decrease in three years, the FBI reported.
Maryland had the third largest drop in overall crime rate in the 16-state southern region, but still had the ninth highest crime rate in the nation, according to the FBI’s annual Uniform Crime Reports.
Violent crime in Maryland fell about 5 percent to equal slightly more than 930 incidents per 100,000 people, still high compared to the nation’s rate of about 630 and Virginia’s rate of about 340 cases per 100,000 people, the FBI said.
Forcible rape had the biggest decline in Maryland – 10.6 percent – bringing the number of cases from 2,130 to 1,905.
Murders were down 1.3 percent, robberies decreased 6.5 percent, aggravated assaults declined 3.5 percent, burglaries fell 5.6 percent and larceny and motor vehicle theft decreased about 3 percent, chiseling the overall number of crimes down to 307,461 in 1996 from 317,382 in 1995, the FBI reported.
“This gives us an opportunity to look at what we’ve done and focus on areas that need more attention, require more police services,” said Sgt. Laura Lu Herman, a Maryland State Police spokeswoman.
The state makes up 2.3 percent of total crimes and 2.8 percent of violent crimes in the United States, according to the FBI.
Earlier this year, state and county officials announced measures to counteract spiraling violence, including community- oriented policing, additional hirings, new police facilities, upgraded computer systems and Hot Spots, a program that puts more officers in communities with high risk of drug activity.
Police attribute falling crime levels to the new efforts.
“It’s a matter of the police department keeping up with the changes in society,” Herman said. “We use more modern techniques, more modern tactics.”
Prince George’s County, accounting for about 17 percent of Maryland’s total crime last year, enacted a 12-point plan in February to help clean up its neighborhoods.
County-wide homicides, which increased almost 4 percent from 1995 to 1996, plummeted about 36 percent so far this year, said Sgt. Peter White, a Prince George’s County police spokesman.
“Hopefully, this is not an aberration, and we’re having a long-lasting effect,” he said.
Overall crime statewide had sunk about 6 percent in the first half of this year compared to the same time last year, with violent crime dropping 8 percent and property crime dropping 5 percent, according to preliminary reports released by the Maryland State Police.
Unlike the FBI’s 1996 report, Maryland rape cases from early last year to early this year had one of the lowest declines with 4 percent, largely overshadowed by a 9 percent drop in murders, 13 percent decline in motor vehicle thefts and 16 percent dive in robberies, state police records show.