Howard County's changing landscape is showing up in its latest crime statistics, scheduled to be made public next week by county officials.

Crime went up 10.4 percent in 1986, with the largest percentage increases in property crimes. Vehicle thefts increased 52 percent and burglaries went up 14.4 percent, according to the report.

The new crime figures make up another piece of evidence that testifies to Howard's rapid urbanization, county officials said. A short drive between two major urban centers, Baltimore and Washington, Howard County is starting to experience some big-city problems, Police Chief Frederick Chaney said.

Last year, 5,430 residents moved into Howard, bringing the county's population to almost 160,000, a county planner said.

"We have more people and more traffic coming through Howard, " County Administrator William Eakle said. "As we continue to grow, we'll see more crime."

There are some strange quirks in the 1986 crime statistics, Chaney said. For example, violent crimes -- murder, rapes, armed robberies -- dropped 3.4 percent last year, he said.

Predicting crime patterns is a guessing game at best, said Chaney, who had no explanation for the year-to-year fluctuations. In 1986, for instance, two slayings were committed in Howard County. So far this year, there have been five homicides, Chaney said.

"It depends on what friends get mad at each other," said Eakle, adding that most homicides involve people who know each other.

But law enforcement officials are closely tracking the crime trends. They also are fighting back.

Chaney said the police department plans to beef up its street patrols and improve its crime prevention program. Howard police also plan to launch an aggressive attack against the growing influx of drugs in the county, he said.

Howard County finds itself caught in a vise between two major metropolitan areas. Its many miles of rural roads have become major corridors for drug traffickers, Chaney said.

Drug arrests in Howard are on the increase, said Sgt. Angus Park, a police spokesman. In 1986, police made 274 arrests for drug violations.

More arrests are expected this year, Park said. Through June, Howard police made 149 drug arrests, with the largest number, 34, for the sale or manufacture of hard drugs such as heroin and cocaine.

State's Attorney William Hymes said he expects to receive a $63,000 federal grant this month to set up a special drug prosecution team. Howard County has agreed to contribute $21,000 toward the pilot program.

The county's stepped-up drug enforcement campaign has one goal, Hymes said. "We want to give drug pushers a message," he said. "We want them to know that if they come here, they'll met with viciousness from our office."