WASHINGTON – Maryland led the nation in robberies for the eighth consecutive year in 2002, despite a drop in the number of robberies in the state from the year before, according to a recent report from the FBI.
The Uniform Crime Report said Maryland reported 13,417 robberies in 2002 compared to 13,525 in 2001. But that translated into a rate of 245.8 robberies per 100,000 residents Maryland last year, well above the national rate of 145.9.
While the state’s robbery and violent crime rates have decreased for each of the past eight years, the decline has not kept pace with a nationwide drop in violent crime rates that began in the early ’90s, said Gary LaFree, a criminology professor at the University of Maryland, College Park.
“If you weren’t comparing Maryland to the rest of the country, you could be fairly happy” about the decline in crime rates, LaFree said. “But we haven’t been trending down as fast.”
The FBI report did not break out crime rates by county, but LaFree said the heaviest concentration of robbery and violent crime rates in recent years have been in Baltimore and Prince George’s County.
But the factors behind that concentration are not entirely clear, he said. He did note that Baltimore did not have the same economic boom during the last decade as other cities in the country, and drug-related violence in the city is still a big problem there, while it has dropped elsewhere in the nation.
Maryland State Police and the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention were reluctant to say why the robbery rates in the state are so high. Both agencies said that the answer lies with individual jurisdictions.
“It’s too broad for me to answer statewide,” said George Ludington, a spokesman for the Office of Crime Control and Prevention. That office distributes over $38 million every year to state and local governments and non-profit organizations, and administers 22 law enforcement grant programs in the state.
Baltimore and Prince George’s County accounted for 67 percent of all robberies in the state in 2001, according to statistics from the Maryland State Police, and 69 percent in 2000.
“We’re encouraged by the fact that robberies are declining from where they were last year,” said Cpl. Joe Merkel of the Prince George’s County Police Department. “But it still happens more often that we’d like.”
Merkel said his department has special units that focus on robbery, and that the county plans to redeploy officers from administrative jobs to street patrols during the upcoming holiday season.
But some believe that crime prevention efforts in Maryland are not enough.
“A lot of the police departments in Maryland have not been too aggressive in pushing crime prevention,” said John Reginaldi, president of the Maryland Crime Prevention Association and a former Baltimore County Police Department detective.
But Reginaldi did not lay all the blame on police. Businesses need to implement preventive measures, too, he said.
“It has to be multi-disciplinary,” Reginaldi said. “If business owners and managers and police departments made crime prevention a priority, it would have a big impact.”
Reginaldi said he has seen a gradual decrease of attention toward crime prevention efforts in Maryland over the past 10 years or so.
“The crime might be down, but the fear is still there,” he said.