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Police silent on details of Vi Ripken's abduction

As the investigation into Violet R. Ripken's abduction stretched into an eighth day, police remained silent Wednesday about their leads — a strategy Harford County State's Attorney Joseph I. Cassilly said could ensure the potential suspect doesn't destroy evidence or intimidate witnesses.

Investigators on the 40-person Aberdeen police force, Cassilly said, must find a balance in publicly releasing details that will help solve the case but will not provide any advantage to the man believed to have abducted the 74-year-old mother of Orioles legend Cal Ripken Jr. and widow of former manager Cal Ripken Sr.

"I hope that we're successful; that's all I say," Cassilly said. "Every crime isn't going to be solved. Good police work is probably about 90 percent sweat and 10 percent luck. That 10 percent can be a big factor sometimes."

In Aberdeen, the clearance rate in solving crimes was 37 percent last year, compared to 38 percent in Bel Air, 25 percent in Havre de Grace, and 34 percent in Harford County; those rates include property crimes such as theft and violent crimes such as murder. The clearance rate for Baltimore in 2011 was 19 percent, which factors in 197 homicides and 17,010 thefts.

Aberdeen Mayor Michael E. Bennett said he is confident that local police, with the cooperation of the region's law enforcement network, will arrest the man who is believed to have hid in Ripken's garage early July 24 and abducted her at gunpoint. She was bound and placed in her 1998 Lincoln Town Car, according to police, and driven around Central Maryland for 24 hours before being dropped off, uninjured, near her home. The suspect is considered armed and dangerous.

"I would give them an A-plus-plus," Bennett said of the Aberdeen police. "They have been exemplary. I can't put a time frame on it, but we'll get ahold [of] the guy who did this, and he will be brought to justice."

Bennett, who was elected in 2007, spent 40 years in law enforcement with the Maryland State Police.

Tracking down the suspect and piecing together details of the crime will take significant coordination and legwork, Bennett said, adding that that was the case with finding the video that showed the suspect shopping the night of the abduction at a store in Anne Arundel County. Police are refusing to to identify the store or the time the video was taken.

The police are also prioritizing and chasing down dozens of tips that have come into a 24-hour hot line set up for the case, Bennett said.

The person leading the investigation is Aberdeen Police Chief Henry Trabert, who has been in charge of the department for a little more than a year, Bennett said. Trabert has worked for the department for more than 20 years and was selected over 50 applicants by an independent professional recruiting firm hired by the city, Bennett said.

Trabert pledged early in the investigation that police would pursue every clue, but he hasn't spoke publicly since then and has been unavailable for interviews.

Lt. Fred Budnick, the spokesman for Aberdeen police, released no new details Wednesday, and Ripken's family continued to stay mum. Police released a 35-second video and a sketch of the suspect Tuesday.

Other law enforcement agencies, including the Anne Arundel County Police Department, have deferred to the Aberdeen police for updates.

Doug Ward, director of the Public Safety Leadership Division at the Johns Hopkins University and a former state police major, said police probably know much more than they're releasing to the public in the case.

"It's just strange; it's not your normal kidnapping," Ward said. "A potentially dangerous criminal is on the loose. The most important piece to focus on is to make a arrest."

Kidnapping statistics for Maryland do not exist. The crime is tracked as part of other incidents, such as robbery or rape or murder. Anecdotally, experts say, kidnapping typically involves noncustodial parents abducting their own children; when adults are abducted, robbery is often a motive.

Cassilly, the Harford County prosecutor, said the area's "attitude of cooperation" will help police, especially because the suspect allegedly drove Ripken throughout the region.

"I don't think it makes any difference whether it's a small [police] department or a big department," Cassilly said. "They're literally getting help from anybody who has input on this. They are not restricted in terms of who they can turn to for assistance."

Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton contributed to this article.

ywenger@baltsun.com

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Aberdeen crime data

In 2011, 671 crimes were committed in Aberdeen, and the local police department made 637 arrests. Here is the breakdown on some of the offenses committed and arrests made:

Homicides: one reported; one homicide arrest made.

Rape: four reported; four arrests.

Robbery: 34 reported; 10 arrests.

Larceny: 458 reported; 118 arrests.

Source: Maryland Uniform Crime Report

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