By Matt Zapotosky and Dan Morse
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Crime fell significantly in Prince George's and Montgomery counties in early 2009, in part because of double-digit percentage drops in reports of violent offenses, authorities announced yesterday.
In Prince George's, total crime declined by more than 14 percent from January through June compared with the same period last year.
In Montgomery, total crime dropped 6.7 percent for the first four months of the year compared with the first four months of 2008. "Crimes against persons," a category that includes homicides, rapes and aggravated assaults, were down 10 percent.
At a news conference to highlight the decrease, Prince George's County Police Chief Roberto L. Hylton announced that burglaries increased during the period, but only by 3.3 percent. Homicides fell by 16.7 percent, rapes by 14.1 percent and vehicle thefts by 29.5 percent, he said. In raw numbers, that equates to 10 fewer killings, 12 fewer rapes and 1,307 fewer stolen vehicles in Prince George's, police said.
Maj. Andy Ellis, a Prince George's police spokesman, said increased staffing has helped, and County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) cited an increase in the police budget from $104 million in 2002 to $253 million now. Hylton emphasized the success of community policing, which addresses smaller problems that are of concern to residents and puts officers in closer contact with people in the areas where they patrol.
"All we're doing is reintroducing the model that works," he said. "You address symptoms before they become problems."
But even as he pointed to the reduction in crime, Hylton seemed to criticize others in the criminal justice system, saying that criminals were getting out of jail just as quickly as they were arrested.
"Our officers are locking the right people up, but they're right back out on the streets," Hylton said. "The police department is not the only part of the criminal justice process."
State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey, who was not at the news conference, shrugged off the chief's words, saying he shares concerns that violent criminals are being released when judges or magistrates set unusually low bonds. In at least two cases this year, prosecutors have dropped assault charges against suspects after video footage appeared to contradict police officers' account of events.
The chief said in an interview after the news conference that he was "not laying blame on anybody," especially not Ivey. "I'm not hinting," he said. "I just think everybody has to work together." If his detectives were responsible for unsuccessful prosecutions, he said, he would institute retraining to address the problem.
Montgomery County has had only six homicides this year. The county has averaged 20 homicides a year since 1985.
For the first four months of the year, the most recent available statistics in Montgomery, "part one" crimes, including homicide, robbery and theft, decreased 9 percent, according to police. Robberies fell from 327 to 293, or 10.4 percent; burglaries declined from 1,116 to 937, or 16 percent; auto thefts dropped from 800 to 482, or 39.8 percent; and larcenies declined from 5,702 to 5,525, or 3.1 percent.
Less serious crime, such as vandalism and minor assaults, dropped by 5.4 percent, according to police.
"I am very pleased to see this reduction," Montgomery Chief J. Thomas Manger said in a statement. "We continue to seek and appreciate the active support of our community members in following good crime prevention practices, and providing information to the department to help us solve crimes after they occur."