Statewide crime rates for North Carolina continued to fall in 2011, according to Attorney General Roy Cooper, and Richmond County saw many of the same patterns.
The state’s Department of Justice revealed a 0.9 percent overall decrease in the rate of index crimes per 100,000 people in North Carolina compared to 2010. Law enforcement agencies from across the state reported to the State Bureau of Investigation that the rate of violent crimes dropped 5.2 percent. Within the field of violent crimes, rapes declined 2.8 percent, robberies dropped 4.1 percent, aggravated assaults were down 6 percent, and murders increased 5.9 percent.
The Department of Justice also said that the rate of property crimes, which includes burglary, larceny, and motor vehicle theft, decreased by 0.6 percent throughout the state. Reports of motor vehicle theft fell 7.9 percent, and reports of burglary fell 0.9 percent while reports of larceny rose 0.4 percent. Arson, which is not included in the overall crime rate, dropped by 9.2 percent.
According to the Annual Summary Report of Crime in North Carolina for 2011, the Index Crime Rate, which consists of both violent and property crimes, dropped from 7,016.5 (per 100,000 persons) to 6,645.9 in Richmond County. The violent crime rate dropped from 563.5 (per 100,000 persons) to 536.5, while the property crime rate fell from 6,452.9 (per 100,000 persons) to 6,109.4.
Richmond County Sheriff James Clemmons Jr. said he attributes the decrease to a working judicial system.
“I think that it has a lot to do with the fact that folks are learning,” Clemmons said. “They’re not willing to go to jail, so they’re not doing the things they used to do. I think it’s just a tribute to how law enforcement agencies are working together. When people see the court system acting in a manner that is quick and swift to adjudicate cases, folks are thinking differently now. They don’t want to commit crimes and spend 20 to 40 years in prison.
“Another thing is that we don’t have the bars we used to have, or all the night clubs … because of that, the trend of a lot of those crimes are no longer there,” the sheriff said.
“When we invest wisely in law enforcement, the result is safer communities,” Attorney General Cooper said. “It takes well-trained law enforcement using the latest technology to keep our crime rates low, and we need to make sure they have the tools needed to do the job.”
However, Cooper said he was concerned that successive budget cuts have made it difficult for law enforcement to do its job.
“This year’s budget cuts come at a time when law enforcement needs more officers, agents, and forensic scientists on the job and needs adequate pay to remain competitive,” he said.
Cooper said that the state can keep reducing the crime rate with strategic use of crime-solving techniques and personnel, like more DNA scientists, computer forensic experts, drug toxicologists, and SBI agents.
“We will continue the fight but risk losing ground,” said Cooper.
Sheriff Clemmons said that he felt Cooper was “right on point.”
“The budget cuts have made a big difference,” Clemmons said. “One agency really affected by the cuts has been the SBI. They are the ones that assist us on our cases — they assist us with clandestine lab cleanup and a lot of other things. For example, if a person gets an expungement, on average it takes two years to get it done because we don’t have the staff to get it done.”
The sheriff said clerks around the state have also been affected.
“(Law enforcement is) losing top notch agents due to the fact that they can go privately and join other agencies to make more money,” Clemmons said. “The Sheriff’s Association has been asked to support Roy Cooper, the SBI, and their effort to change those budgets and do what needs to be done.”
This is a change, Clemmons said, that is very important to law enforcement.
“At this particular point, we’re all standing together in the trenches and helping one another and hoping the economy will get better and get us back to the things we’re doing,” Clemmons said. “The more boots we can put on the ground with law enforcement, the better crime fighting we are able to do.”
— Staff writer Mallory Brown can be reached at 910-997-3111, Ext. 16, or by email at email@example.com.