Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2007

Crime in Takoma Park drops in first half of 2007

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Crime in Takoma Park declined about 9 percent for the first six months of the year compared to the same period last year, according to police.

Statistics provided by the Takoma Park police department showed decreases in robberies (31 percent), burglaries (17.1 percent), larcenies (5 percent) and auto theft (7 percent) from January to July. Last year during that time, there were three homicides in Takoma Park. This year, there were none.

Aggravated assaults rose significantly, however, with 23 reported this year when compared to 18 last year, an increase of 28 percent.

Rapes were also up, with three being reported this year, and none for the same time period last year.

Takoma Park Police Chief Ronald A. Ricucci said Monday that he was pleased by the overall decrease in crime, but emphasized that Takoma Park residents need to remain aware of activity in their neighborhoods and continue to report all crimes.

‘‘We want people to call us when they see something, and they’re doing that,” he said.

Ricucci said many of the increased assaults reported this year have been gang-related.

‘‘Gang activity has played a part in some of our assaults, and assaults are up,” he said. ‘‘They’re very good at ganging up on one single victim.”

Ricucci said he was especially satisfied with the decrease in robberies, and he credited that to expansions made to the department’s robbery detail since he became chief in February.

‘‘We had a bunch of robberies at the end of 2006 and when I came onboard, it was a major concern,” he said.

Residential burglaries in particular declined sharply (23.9 percent) when compared to last year.

Ricucci said two areas that continue to have higher crime activity than the rest of the city are the Takoma⁄Langley Crossroads and the Takoma Metro station. He said there has been an increased police presence in both, including bike patrols. ‘‘Those areas are targeted,” he said.

This is the first year the Takoma Park police department has been at full strength since 1998, Ricucci said. When Ricucci took over, the department was down six officers. Now it’s at full strength with 41. Ricucci said he will continue to evaluate whether he believes more officers are needed.

‘‘It’s great to see major-crime numbers down, even if not in all categories,” said Seth Grimes, president of Safe Takoma, an anti-crime group, and the Old Town Residents’ Association. ‘‘City Manager [Barbara] Matthews, Chief Ricucci, and the police department have reversed perceptions that local problems are intractable. The department’s new undercover work and community and business-focused efforts have been very, very welcome and should produce even better results in future reports.”

‘‘I think the businesses are really appreciative of the efforts of the new chief,” said Roz Grigsby, executive director of the Old Takoma Business Association. ‘‘He’s done a lot to have a really visible presence, which has done a lot to help out with the rash of armed robberies over the years.

‘‘I think it makes Takoma Park a place people know they can come and hang out and enjoy and shop an its safe and that matters.”

Others were more cautious in welcoming the statistics.

‘‘I’ve been around long enough to know that one drop can be followed by a rise,” said Councilman Bruce Williams (Ward 3). ‘‘I tend to like to look at the long-term trend. I’m certainly encouraged by it and may it continue, but who knows what could happen. But it’s no reason for everyone to drop your guard.”

‘‘I think that it’s good to see that crime is down,” said Councilman Terry Seamens (Ward 4). ‘‘I think that it’s a nice sign with having a new police chief, but it’s probably not as meaningful as the next six months are going to be.”

Seamens pointed out Takoma Park’s drop in crime has coincided with a similar decrease throughout the county.

‘‘I attribute this more to the trend in the local area and to the region than to the new police chief at this point,” he said.

‘‘But I will say that I think Chief Ricucci has been doing a great job,” Seamens said. ‘‘He got here in February. His approach to police has had little time to take effect. I look forward to seeing how the next six months develop ahead.”

Ricucci also had some reservations in heralding the news.

‘‘These are very good statistics,” he said. ‘‘I’m very pleased, but all it takes is one serial burglary, one serial robber, and crime will go back up.”