Crime Jumps In Early 2006

By Ernesto Londoño
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Montgomery County experienced its first pointed increase in crime in four years during the first quarter of this year, according to statistics released yesterday by the county's police department.

Compared with the same period last year, overall crime reports rose slightly more than 12 percent, and serious violent crime was up about 9 percent.

Reported robberies increased nearly 10 percent; assaults, 8 percent; and larcenies, 13 percent. Reported rapes decreased 3 percent, and detectives investigated four homicides, one more than in the earlier quarter.

Crime in the county has remained relatively steady for the past few years, and law enforcement officials cautioned that the first quarter statistics might represent an anomaly rather than a trend. Nationally, violent crime increased last year at the highest rate in 15 years, according to an FBI analysis released this week.

"In general, I don't think that we should overreact to these first-quarter statistics," said Montgomery Police Chief J. Thomas Manger. "We do need to pay attention to this. We need to start looking at the fact that this could be a longer trend."

In response to the increase in robberies, the chief is working to get five new robbery detective positions filled during the next few months.

"That's my biggest concern now," Manger said, adding that the department should have enough robbery detectives to assign every robbery in the county to an expert in that type of crime. "I saw this trend brewing a couple of years ago."

Roughly 36 percent of robberies committed during the first three months of the year had been cleared, while nearly 67 percent of rapes and 62 percent of aggravated assaults reported during that time frame had been.

Manger said crime in Montgomery -- an increasingly urban home to nearly 1 million people that shares borders with jurisdictions afflicted by far worse crime rates -- remains relatively low.

He said his command staff is implementing several programs designed to fight criminal gangs, regional spikes in crime and the steep increase in robberies.

Manger said he intends to reinstate the Police Community Action Team -- two roving units of officers that tackle unexpected bouts of crimes in small areas. Such teams existed in the county in the mid-1990s but disbanded. Manger, who became chief of the Montgomery department in 2004 after spending several years at the helm of the Fairfax County department, said a similar program was highly effective in Virginia.

"I'm resurrecting them," Manger said of the teams, which each comprise a sergeant and six officers. "We need the ability to react and respond quickly to spikes [in crime] anywhere they occur in the county."

Manger also highlighted the centralization of the department's gang unit, which is made up of six officers -- each of whom is assigned to one of the district stations -- and a sergeant. He said those officers are increasingly being encouraged to focus on countywide approaches to gang intervention.

Statistics for Some of the Most Serious Crimes
Overall and serious violent crime increased during the first three months of this year compared with the same period last year.
Montgomery County Crime: 2005 vs. 2006
SOURCE: Montgomery County Police Department | GRAPHIC: The Washington Post - June 14, 2006
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