ANNAPOLIS – Crime in Maryland dropped in all categories last year, falling 6.9 percent overall from 1996 to 1997, according to new statistics from the Maryland State Police.
Leading the declines were drops in murder and robbery rates, which fell 14 percent each, and motor-vehicle thefts, which were down by 15 percent.
“Those are substantial one-year drops on a statewide basis,” said Adam Gelb, policy director for Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.
At the dedication of the Deep Creek “HotSpot” Community Center in Essex on Thursday, when the new crime statistics were released, Townsend said Maryland is fundamentally changing the way it fights crime.
She said the state is taking a four-pronged assault on crime: targeting the most-dangerous offenders, protecting victims, preventing youngsters from getting into crime and involving communities.
The state’s HotSpot Communities Initiative, launched last July, brings adult and juvenile probation officers together with local police and residents in neighborhoods identified by the state as being hit hardest by crime.
Gelb said those policies and the “unprecedented” cooperation of state, federal and local agencies in programs like HotSpots is laying the ground for a trend that will continue to drive the numbers down.
“It takes all the other government agencies working together with citizens to get the numbers down and to keep them down …. That’s really the foundation that’s going to keep these numbers heading down,” Gelb said.
Maryland State Police spokesman Pete Piringer agreed that the drop in crime statistics “has a lot to do with getting the community involved.”
Piringer said police were “particularly pleased with the numbers for the Baltimore and Washington regions.” Overall crime fell 11.6 percent in Prince George’s County and 11.3 percent in Baltimore.
Baltimore still had the most crimes in the state, but it also had the biggest drop, reporting 10,000 fewer crimes between 1996 and 1997.
Baltimore police spokesman Rob Weinhold attributed the decrease to strong enforcement strategies, a strong community partnership and the “hard work of the men and women who work the street everyday.”
The 11.3 percent decrease in crime in Baltimore was almost twice the 6 percent drop reported by similar-sized cities across the nation in the first half of 1997, according to statistics from the FBI.
Wicomico County had the biggest percentage drop in crime in the state, with total crime falling 16.7 percent from 1996 to 1997.
Wicomico County Sheriff Hunter Nelms said the decrease is a result of proactive programs such as increased community policing.
“I think you’re going to see the numbers continue to decrease,” Nelms said.
But he said the statistics only indicate adult crimes and that, as bright the outlook is for adults, it is the opposite on the juvenile side.
“It’s not just in Wicomico County, juvenile numbers are increasing across the nation in alarming rates,” he said.
But Gelb said the numbers released Thursday are for total crimes, regardless of whether they were committed by adults or juveniles.
And while it is difficult to get a fix on juvenile arrests, Gelb said, the picture is not as bleak as Nelms paints. Gelb said the number of cases entering the juvenile justice system has remained stable, slipping from 58,159 in 1996 to 58,130 cases in 1997.
“It appears that juvenile crime is leveling off,” Gelb said.
Rapidly growing St. Mary’s County had the largest percentage increase of any county, with total crimes there going up by about 8 percent.
Maryland did about twice as well in 1997 when compared to other states. FBI statistics for the first half of 1997 — the latest for which there are national numbers — showed crime down by 4 percent nationally and by about 3 percent in Southern states.