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Crime in Charles County fell by more than 10 percent to a new record low in 2012, the largest drop in local crime since 2009 and just the second double-digit reduction since 1999, according to the state’s annual Uniform Crime Report.

There were 3,918 total index offenses in the county last year, 448 fewer crimes and a 10.3 percent decline from 2011. Due to a 1.8 percent increase in the county’s population to 150,570 residents, the overall crime rate fell by nearly 12 percent, from 2,951.2 to 2,602.1 offenses per 100,000 people.

Index offenses include murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny theft and motor vehicle theft.

The significant reduction in crime followed two years of lesser declines in the crime rate, and set a new low for county crime for the third consecutive year. The county’s crime rate fell to a record low in 2010, when it dipped 1.2 percent from the previous year, and again in 2011, when it fell by another 3.1 percent. The record lows followed a more marked decline in 2009, when the number of index offenses in the county fell 13.2 percent.

At this time last year, Charles County Sheriff Rex Coffey (D) estimated that the county would see an 8 or 9 percent drop in crime in 2012.

On Tuesday, the sheriff said he was happy to have exceeded his own expectations.

“Especially under all the circumstances, like the bad economy and not getting any new help, we were very satisfied,” Coffey said. “Of course, it’s hard to satisfy me. It’s a good thing, so we’ll take it any way we can get it.”

Last year’s fall in crime is largely attributable to a 13.1 percent drop in property crimes, which were down from 3,778 in 2011 to 3,343 last year. Violent crimes — murder, rape, robbery and assault — also fell 2.2 percent, from 588 to 575.

But overall, violent offenses made up 14.7 percent of crime committed in Charles last year, an increase over their 13.5 percent share in 2011.

The drop in violent crime is entirely due to a significant 12.5 percent decline in the number of robberies committed, from 176 in 2011 to 154 last year.

Meanwhile, the number of murders in the county doubled from three in 2011 to six in 2012, the highest total since 2009, when the county tallied seven homicides. Rapes also went up last year, from 26 in 2011 to 32 in 2012. Aggravated assault remained stagnant at 383 offenses last year, the same as 2011.

Unlike with violent crimes, each of the three index property crimes fell markedly in 2012. Burglaries dropped from 767 in 2011 to 614, a 19.5 percent decrease, while motor vehicle thefts fell from 280 to 186, a whopping 33.6 percent decline. Larceny thefts dropped a more modest 7 percent, from 2,731 in 2011 to 2,543 last year.

Coffey cited the “high visibility” of his officers as “the No. 1 deterrent” to crime in the county. He credited his investigators with removing repeat offenders from the streets, and the community for answering public calls for higher vigilance.

Coffey urged residents to continue calling the sheriff’s office if they suspect any wrongdoing in their neighborhoods.

“We don’t mind coming out if it turns out to be nothing,” he said.

After seeing burglaries go up significantly in 2010 and 2011, the department finally saw some progress in its primary objective to crack down on breaking and entering. Still, Coffey said burglaries will remain a chief concern.

“The banks, it doesn’t seem like they have a huge interest in doing what it takes to get those homes sold or boarded up properly,” he said. “Until the builders and the banks do something about it, this is going to continue to be a problem for us.”

In addition to the index offenses, there were 558 instances of domestic violence, down slightly from 562 in 2011, but well under the five-year average of 603 per year.

The Center for Abused Persons in Waldorf has not seen a recent increase in its sexual assault cases, but given the number of factors involved, including underreporting and victims who are repeatedly attacked, it is difficult to determine whether instances of domestic violence are up or down based on numbers alone, Executive Director Annette Gilbert-Jackson said.

“Certainly women report more sexual assault and domestic violence crimes than they did a number of years ago, but there’s still the issue” of stigma, Gilbert-Jackson said.

jnewman@somdnews.com