Serious crime in Prince George's County dropped 2.2 per cent in 1976, according to the latest figures released by police.

The declining crime rate in Prince George's - which in the past has led the area in crime growth, sometimes with increases of more than 25 per cent a year - is part of a downward trend in the metropolitan area.

Police were hesitant to explain the declining rate, which is based on the number of reported crimes in the FBI's major crimes index. "If we told you anything we'd really be guessing," said John Hoxie, director of public information for Prince George's police.

"We've found that the ups and downs pretty much parallel the suburban averages, give or take a percentage point, which leads us to believe there are other national factors working," said Hoxie.

However, Hoxie said that Prince George's police had intensified a crime prevention program, which may account partly for the drop in crime.

The number of crimes reported to the FBI for Prince George's County in 1976 declined in all seven categories except for burglary and rape.

Burglary increased 3.7 per cent - a surprise, Hoxie said, since police have been organizing neighborhood watch programs and urging citizens to install better locks.

"The main impact of our crime prevention program should have been on burglary," Hoxie said.

"Apparently there's not been impact enough. All we can assume is that without it, things would have been worse," Hoxie added that in neighborhoods like Seabrook and Oxon Hill the number of burglaries had decreased following the creation of neighborhood watch programs.

The number of reported rapes also increased from 261 in 1975 to 280 in 1976, or 7.2 per cent.

Hoxie said that the number of reported rapes had increased during the past three years, since the creation of the county's rape crisis center. Police believe that more rape victims have been encouraged to report the crimes because of more sensitive handling procedures.

In 1976, there were 39,578 serious crimes reported compared to 40,485 in 1975.

The murder rate declined 17.3 per cent with 38 murders in 1976 and 46 in 1975.

The decline in other categories included: robbery, down 7.2 per cent; aggravated assault, 4.8 per cent; larceny, 2.4 per cent; auto theft, 10.9 per cent.(TABLE) (COLUMN)1975(COLUMN)1976(COLUMN)Per cent (COLUMN)(COLUMN)(COLUMN)change Murder(COLUMN) 46(COLUMN) 38(COLUMN)-17.3 Rape(COLUMN) 261(COLUMN) 280(COLUMN)+ 7.2 Robbery(COLUMN) 2,147(COLUMN) 1,941(COLUMN)- 9.6 Aggravated(COLUMN)(COLUMN)(COLUMN) Assault(COLUMN) 1,693(COLUMN) 1,611(COLUMN)- 4.8 Burglary(COLUMN) 9,279(COLUMN) 9,627(COLUMN)+ 3.7Larceny 23,140(COLUMN)22,591(COLUMN)- 2.4 Auto Theft(COLUMN) 3,919(COLUMN) 3,490(COLUMN)-10.9 TOTALS(COLUMN)40,485(COLUMN)39578(COLUMN)- 2.2(END TABLE)