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How could that happen here?

March 21, 2011

A dismembered 10-year-old girl. A mutilated man with a log-splitter in his stomach. A drug-fueled home invasion that left three people dead.

These grisly, high-profile crimes produced state and national headlines, but they didn't occur in some unknown, far away town. They all happened in Catawba County.

The Catawba County Sheriff's Office responded to six murders in the first three months of 2011, which is double the number of murders and non-negligent manslaughter cases in 2010.

"How do you prevent it when a father shoots his wife and daughter?" asked Sheriff Coy Reid, referring to the Wheeler family double murder-suicide that occurred Feb. 7.

These crimes are happening just miles away from where county residents live, work and raise their families, which prompts many people to ask, "How could that happen here?"

The Strain Theory
It's no secret that the economic downturn affected the way people work, travel and spend their money.

But experts and law enforcement officials agree tough economic times play a role in the amount of crime in a community.

"Any time we have these economic problems, we're going to see more crime," said Shelley Shaffer, a doctoral candidate and criminal justice professor at Catawba Valley Community College. "(Criminals) have to steal, instead of it being an opportunity."

People can't afford to buy food, clothing or other necessities for their families, so they're forced to steal it, Shaffer said. Families can't pay for electricity, so they're forced it get the service fraudulently.

Conover and Claremont recently experienced a string of car break-ins, where thieves opened unlocked car doors and stole items stored inside the vehicles.

Conover Police Chief Steve Brewer said those crimes aren't typical for Conover and don't represent a trend toward increased criminal activity in city limits.

"That was a sporadic thing that was going on," he said.

Shaffer said the type of crime and the people who commit those crimes are vary widely, because unemployment or financial problems can affect anyone.

Unemployment didn't decrease in any North Carolina counties for January, according to recent statistics from the state Employment Security Commission. Catawba County's unemployment rate increased from 12.3 percent to 12.6 percent.

Population also increased in Catawba County from 2000 to 2010, which can also affect crime in a region, according to officials.

The 2010 Census showed the county grew to 154,358 people, which means the population increased about 9 percent in 10 years.

"I would expect more of an increase in crime with more people (in the county)," Reid said. "The more people you have, the more opportunities there are to have crime."

The Broken Window Theory
Where there's one broken window, there will be more.

That's the theory some law enforcement officers have when it comes to increasing crime in declining, dilapidated neighborhoods.

"If there's an area that goes unattended, people are going to go into that area to commit crime," Shaffer said. "... They think the area is unattended."

Census 2010 statistics showed Newton's vacant housing units increased 63 percent from 2000 to 2010. About 89 percent of the city's 5,105 housing units are filled, and 590, or about 11 percent, are vacant.

While that doesn't mean all of the city's vacant housing units are in disrepair, it does mean those empty properties could be targets for thieves.

Newton Police Chief Don Brown said the city's crime hasn't really been affected by an increasing unemployment rate. He said although the city experienced a slight increase in property crime, the amount of crime in the city has gradually decreased.

About 34 officers help keep Newton's streets safe, and for Shaffer, that policing is key for a safe environment. Shaffer advised law enforcement officers to step up community policing efforts and crime-reduction programs, where officers take active roles in the area's neighborhoods.

"That's the key to reducing crime," Shaffer said. "If nobody cares about the community, crime is going to get worse."

But Shaffer conceded adding more community policing efforts takes additional time and resources, something that is tight for most law enforcement agencies these days.

"We're seeing (the effects) from so many different variables," she said.

Comments

Making Excuses

March 22, 2011 by johnplatinum, 3 years 27 weeks ago
Comment: 263

I don't think anyone is blaming the police for the sudden rash of violent crimes so I don't understand why they need to make all of these excuses. I do think it is funny that 6 months ago both Coy Reid and Jay Gaither took credit for small drops in the crime rate when statistics were released before the last elelction. When the stats were down they took credit for the trend because they believed it put them in a positive light. Now, with a surge in murders Coy Reid acts like he has no control over crime in this area. Frankly I believe that police can not do anything to prevent crime, they can only act after a crime has happened but I dont like to see police taking credit when things are good but make excuses when things go wrong. You cant have it both ways.

Blame..

March 22, 2011 by Backbone (not verified), 3 years 27 weeks ago
Comment: 262

It is due to a combination of factors. Basically we have lost a lot of the social thread that has made us a County of good hardworking citizens. We have seen too much of an influx of "undesirables" of all stripes come in. They are not coming in for job opportunities (there are none!) they are here becasue of the welfare that is so easy to get. WHen they settle here, then comes the criminal element. Case in point, the huge "mental health" infra-structure we are saddled with!
Go visit the parking lots of these services and you will see the dregs of society living off your dollars. Then go to court in Newton. Most of the crimes are committed by transients or "Illegals". You will not see good old Catawba County names (for the most part) on the docket. We need to make live less "convenient" for transients to float in here and cause problems for us all.

Prosecute to the fullest extent the offenders. Lock them up in prison. Teach the children what they need to do to survive. Bring order to the schools. Identify and get rid of the trouble makers, and quit going after good citizens with draconian policies. And for god sake have some T.E.A! (yee Haw!)

READ OTHER NEWSPAPERS ONLIN

March 22, 2011 by justiceckeepsch..., 3 years 27 weeks ago
Comment: 261

DO YOU THINK CSI IS JUST A WRITER SITTING DOWN AND COMMING UP WITH THESE GRUSOME STORIES , THEY ARE HAPPENING ALL OVER THE USA AND NORTH CAROLINA. YOU NEED TO CK OUT OTHERE NEWS PAPERS THANK GOD THEY ARE ONLINE NOW. ALSO IF 2 PEOPLE SUCH AS IN THE HIGH PROFILE BAKER CASE CAN LIVE IN CATABA COUNTY AND CALDWELL COUNTY AND GOD ONLY KNOWS WHERE ELSE CAN LIVE DAY BY DAY WRITEING BAD CKS TO WHOMEVER THEY COME ACROSS, WHO DO YOU THINK PAYS FOR THIS IN THE END. THEY ARE ALREADY TALKING OF MOVING THE TRIAL OUT OF STATE AND GOOD OLD N.C. TAXPAYERS GET TOO PAY FOR THAT. IT'S A NEVER ENDING CYCLE. THE COPS LOCK EM UP THE LAWERS GET EM OUT AND ON AND ON IT GOES. LOOK UP THE WORD JUSTICE AND SEE IF YOU FIND IT IN AMERICA. A CRIMINAL THAT WANTS TO BE LOCKED UP HAS A REASON , HE EITHER WANTS TO EAT HAVE SHELTER OR MEDS OR ALL THREE.WHEN THE GOV. FAILS THEN THERE ONLY HOPE TO THEM IT SEEMS IS CRIME. CHURCHES CANT BEAR THE BURDEN ONE REASON IS THE MORE FOLKS GIVE TO CHURCH THE MORE THE GOVERNMENT TAKES FROM YOU.

Great Theories, How about another one

March 22, 2011 by Seymore Beaver (not verified), 3 years 27 weeks ago
Comment: 260

I call this theroy "Emasculated DA." It is a condition that impacts a region when criminals discover that they can get away with about any crime because there is no one capable of prosecuting them.

Honest hardworking citizens have more to fear because no one is backing up the law enforcement that protects us.

Don't blame population and growth, if that was the case than counties that surround us with double digit increases would be sin city. They arn't.

Don't blame decay and hard times. That might lead to petty crime but not the horrific violent crimes that we are seeing. There will always be petty crime even in good times.

Criminals do not fear going to court and that is very sad. It isn't the judges, we know who is to blame.

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