Homicides in Baltimore County increased by 50 percent in 2011 compared to the previous year.
The increase ends a four-year downward trend for total homicides in Baltimore County.
But county officials caution that the 30 homicides in the county in 2011 are more in line with the county's historic range for such crimes.
"Last year was extremely low," said Elise Armacost, a police department spokeswoman. "Thirty is a bit more typical of what the county has seen over the last 10 to 15 years. Last year (2010) was an anomaly."
Armacost said the ratio of homicides continues to drop though because the county continues to grow in population.
"We're focused on three to five year trends, not just year to year. Because year to year weird things can happen—15-year-old kills his whole family, for instance, or conversely harsh winters that keep people inside—that skew the numbers," said Armacost. "We think you get a more accurate picture when you have a broader view."
In 2010, the county's population was slightly more than 805,000 people.
That makes the homicide rate about 3.72 per 100,000 people in 2011, according to the typical FBI calculation.
That figure is still higher than the 2.48 per 100,000 people in 2010, based on that year's homicide figures and census numbers.Year Homicides Change % Change 2005 40 11 37.9 2006 34 -6 -15 2007 36 2 5.9 2008 30 -6 -16.7 2009 31 1 3.3 2010 20 -11 -35.5 2011 30 10 50
The large majority of homicides in the county continue to be committed by people who knew their victims, Armacost said.
About two-thirds of the homicides in 2010 fall into that category.
There is no increase in the number of random homicides," said Armacost. "We're not seeing the kind of random crime that grabs the headlines and generates the most fear."
Armocost said that investigators believe that some of the remaining homicides for which a relationship remains unknown will also fall into a category where the victim and assailant knew each other.
2011 homicides by relationship. Source: Baltimore County Police DepartmentRelationship type Total Domestic 10 Acquaintence 8 drug related 3 No Relationship/Unknown 9
"We're concerned about the number of domestic homicides," said Armacost.
In recent weeks, the police department has placed an emphasis on domestic related crimes. Just three weeks ago the department held a news conference highlighting the link between holiday stress and violence.
That focus is expected to increase in the coming weeks.
"The chief has said that in 2012 he intends to focus on the issue of domestic violence and family situations," said Armacost.
The county has made arrests in 24 of the 30 cases in 2011—a clearance rate of about 80 percent, said Armacost.
That's higher than the 2010 national clearance rate of nearly 65 percent, the most recent reported by the FBI.
The 2011 clearance rate increases slightly when you add in a 2010 case that was solved in 2011. Police departments typically count a case as cleared in the year in which an arrest is made rather than the year the homicide occurred.
The number of homicides in the county increased in 2011 at the same time killings in the city decreased by 12 percent from 223 in 2010 to 196 in 2011.
"I don't think it's a good idea to talk about two jurisdictions that are so vastly different," said Armacost, adding that Baltimore County has "more population but demographically, the city has very different issues from ours."
"I don't think it's a good comparison," she said.
Last year officials were optimistic that the and become the new normal.
"I don't think it is (an anomaly)," Chief Jim Johnson said in March.
At the time, there were only five homicides in the county.
Armacost said the chief stands by those statements in March and attributes the increase this year to "domestic homicides—that is where we're seeing the increase, and that is something we didn't foresee a year ago."