Montgomery County last year registered a 36 percent increase in residential burglaries and a 42 percent increase in robberies -- the highest increases of any jurisdiction in the area.
Responding to the new figures, Montgomery County police chief Bernard D. Crooke yesterday announced a restructuring of the county police department designed to put more officers on the street. And County Executive Charles W. Gilchrist said he would ask the County Council to boost the police department's budget $3.3 million, an increase of 11 percent over last year.
"The reality is that serious crime is not just a city problem," Gilchrist said, seated beside Crooke at an afternoon press conference at police headquarters in Rockville. "Crime in our county is clear and present, and the community recognizes the seriousness of the problem."
Although the over-all increase in major crime in Maryland's wealthiest county was slight -- only 5 percent -- violent crime increased 15 percent, and armed robberies alone climbed nearly 50 percent, with residents in the Silver Spring area the leading targets. One out of every 37 homes in the county were burglarized, and all told, the losses from both burglaries and robberies amounted to more than $16 million.
These figures top the reported year-end totals of other area jurisdictions. In Arlington all robbery was up 16 percent, burglary 3 percent; in Alexandria all robbery increased 30 percent, all burglary decreased 8 percent; in the District all robbery increased 28 percent and burglary was up 21 percent; in Fairfax armed robbery was up 7 percent and residential burglary was up 15 percent. Year-end totals haven't been compiled yet in Prince George's County, but after nine months, armed robbery was up 25 percent and residential burglary 11 percent.
"What has been shattered by these statistics is that life in the suburbs is serene," said police spokeswoman Nancy Moses. "The post-World War II dream that the suburbs are exempt from reality is no longer true."
Police Chief Crooke cautioned that "crime is far from out of hand and the communities should not be afraid," but added, "there's been a tremendous increase in crime in Montgomery County. Fifteen years ago, a thief would not commit a crime in Montgomery because he knew he'd be caught."
As a result of the reorganization and the increase in funds, if approved, more than 50 additional officers will be on the street during the hours between 3 p.m. and 11 p.m. when demand for police service is the highest, according to a spokesman for Gilchrist.
Crooke said the 10-hours-a-day, four-days-a-week work schedule first adopted in 1974 will be replaced by a five-day-a-week schedule on March 1. And most of the county's detectives will be dispersed throughout the five police districts instead of working out of headquarters in Rockville.
Most of the additional men will be used on plainclothes Special Assignment Teams in high crime areas, according to Crooke. "We'll have more flexibility and we'll be able to attack the crime problem in the areas where it occurs," he said.
But the popular four-day work week, which enables many county officers to moonlight at second jobs, is not likely to disappear without a fight from the department's Fraternal Order of Police lodge, or other police organizations.
"Needless to say we're not happy," said F.O.P. president Larry Desmond.
"In some areas it involves pay decreases and we're especially upset about that. We're having two meetings with the troops and we plan to call a press conference next week."
Gilchrist, who called public safety "my highest priority," said he was asking all other county departments to hold budget increases roughly to 5 percent, and that he was proposing to eliminate 200 positions in the county government to help pay for the increase in the police department's budget.
"This is very substantially the largest increase in the county government," Gilchrist said. "I would characterize [the crime increase] as a serious problem. It's not a disaster, it's simply a problem that's getting more serious and these are logical, reasonable steps to take."
If approved, the extra money will be used for two new rookie classes, and will bring the department's authorized strength up to 790 sworn officers, up from an authorized force of 771.
"That 20, plus what we're doing internally, gives us a flexible team. We're going to make more arrests," Crooke vowed.