- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Crime in Charles County fell to a record low in 2011 despite a nearly 2 percent increase in population, according to the state’s annual Uniform Crime Report.
There were 4,366 total index offenses in the county last year, 59 less and a 1.3 percent decrease from 2010. Due to a 1.8 percent increase in the county’s population, the overall crime rate dropped 3.1 percent from 3.044.4 to 2,951.2 offenses per 100,000 residents.
Index offenses include murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny theft and motor vehicle theft.
The decline comes one year after a more modest 1.2 percent fall in the 2010 crime rate set a record low for the county. The decrease was even more marked in 2009, when the number of total index crimes fell 13.2 percent.
“It’s the same old thing. You can never please me,” Charles County Sheriff Rex Coffey (D) said. “I’m pleased crime continues to decrease, but to say I’m happy with the results would mean I’m happy with the crimes that are being committed. You can never please me when it comes to crime.”
Coffey described officers' visibility in the community and removing repeat offenders from the streets as two keys to helping lower the crime rate.
Through the first six months of 2012, Coffey said his department has tracked an even steeper 15.9 percent decline in the local crime rate compared to the same six-month period in 2011.
Though he doesn’t necessarily expect that figure to hold up during the fall months when crime tends to go up, Coffey said the decrease is the most significant he’s seen halfway through any particular year.
“I’m going to go out on a limb and say we’ll have at least an 8 or 9 percent decrease at end of the year,” he added.
Del. C.T. Wilson (D-Charles), a former Prince George's County prosecutor, credited Coffey and Charles County State’s Attorney Anthony B. Covington (D) with helping maintain “a standard of zero tolerance for crime” and keeping the community involved in crime prevention.
“Charles County’s reputation throughout the state is that they're tough on crime and that's very helpful,” Wilson said. “[Defense lawyers] don’t like coming to Charles County to work cases.”
Wilson said he's heard complaints from outside of the county about “draconic measures” that can result in arrests for minor offenses that in other jurisdictions might render a warning or citation, but Wilson prefers that the county's law enforcement be too tough on crime rather than too soft.
“Although I am no longer a prosecutor, I do believe in a strong criminal justice system, especially in my county, because I live here and I’d like them to keep it safe,” he said.
But Coffey doesn’t think his office can maintain the current trend if its fiscal picture doesn't improve. The money it gets from asset forfeiture helps, but it isn’t enough to keep up with the demands of a steadily increasing population.
Combined with the department's constitutional duties — like serving warrants, court summonses and eviction notices — “we're going to have to add some people at some point in time if they expect us to maintain this as a safe county.”
The most stark drop-off in 2011 of any index offense in Charles County came in aggravated assaults, which fell from 505 in 2010 to 383 in 2011, a 24 percent decrease. It was the lowest rate of aggravated assault in the county since 1977.
Thanks largely to the decline in assault, the county’s violent crime rate also fell to 13.5 percent of all crime, down from 16.1 percent in 2010 and the lowest rate since 1998.
Rapes also went down significantly, from 35 in 2010 to 26 last year. Coffey said the county had “next to no stranger rapes, and that’s the best thing about living in this county, the safety of women. Acquaintance rape, while that’s still a tough pill to swallow, it’s not the same thing as being raped by a stranger on the streets.”
Burglary was the one index offense which continued to increase significantly in Charles County. There were 767 burglaries in 2011, an 8 percent increase over 2010, when burglaries went up 18 percent from the year before.
Coffey attributed the uptick in burglaries to the amount of vacant homes in the county that are either foreclosed or still under construction. Many times thieves steal copper from homes that they know are unoccupied, he added.
“The biggest thing we can do to solve and stop those daytime burglaries is have citizens call about suspicious people,” Coffey said.
Coffey called the fact that only one carjacking was committed in 2011 “an anomaly,” noting that the county usually sees eight to 10 such crimes each year.
Though drug arrests went down 15.5 percent in 2011, Coffey said the department has noticed an increasing problem with prescription drug abuse among primarily white young people ages 17 to 30.
“Our narcotics guys are inundated with those cases,” he said, noting that prescription drug abuse often “motivates a lot of other crimes” like thefts and burglaries. “You cannot get off this oxycodone crap without help and people just don’t understand that.”