Crime rates in the county and state are down from previous years — drops that law enforcement officials say can be attributed to a variety of reasons.
The overall Catawba County rate of index crime per 100,000 people dropped 10.6 percent in 2010, a decrease that is a bit more substantial than the state’s overall drop of 5.6 percent from 2009.
Violent crime per 100,000 people dropped 28 percent last year, a decrease that the county’s District Attorney Jay Gaither said can be partly attributed to his office’s habitual felon programs.
The district attorney’s Habitual Felon Task Force has put more than 200 “hardened criminals” in jail for sentences ranging from 10 to 40 years in prison, Gaither said.
“If each of those individuals commits five felonies a year, then that’s a 1,000 felonies that are being prevented,” Gaither said. “I like to attribute some of the decreases in crime to the habitual felony programs. That said, I’m not ignoring the fact that we have demographic shifts and other changes that influence the crime rate.”
While violent crimes may be down statistically, recent incidents in 2011 may tell a different story.
Catawba County Sheriff Coy Reid said there have been seven homicides this year — a mid-year total that Reid said is higher than any he has seen since he started serving the county. Despite the higher than usual homicide numbers, Reid said he thinks violent crime in the county is still low.
Reid added that higher-profile violent crimes may skew the public’s perception of the actual amount of crime.
“When you get a homicide in the paper, people read those types of stories, and they don’t really see the small things,” Reid said. “We don’t have that much violent crime. We’ve had seven homicides in the county’s jurisdiction this year, and people pay attention to that. It kind of gives people the wrong idea.”
At the state level, the overall rate of index crime per 100,000 people in North Carolina decreased 5.6 percent compared to 2009. The rate of violent crime per 100,000 North Carolinians dropped 10.2 percent, according to reports submitted to the State Bureau of Investigation from law enforcement agencies across the state.
Rates fell in all violent crime categories: murders were down 7.3 percent; rapes declined 14.3 percent; robberies dropped 19.4 percent; and aggravated assaults were down 5.3 percent, according to the state.
The rate of property crimes — burglary, larceny and motor vehicle theft — decreased by 5.1 percent statewide. Reports of motor vehicle theft fell 12.5 percent, while reports of burglary fell 5.3 percent and reports of larceny fell 4.3 percent. Juvenile arrests for index crime offenses fell 9 percent, while adult arrests for those offenses fell 1 percent. Juvenile arrests for all crimes dropped 7 percent, while adult arrests for all crimes fell 2 percent.
“Well-trained law enforcement, up-to-date technology and smart prevention efforts are key to solving and reducing crime,” N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper said. “To keep crime rates moving down, we need better budget decisions that promote public safety, not hurt it.”
The violent crime statistics are the amount of recorded murders, rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults the county sees each year. Property crime statistics, which were also down about 9 percent in 2010, take into account burglary, larceny and motor vehicle theft.
The statistics do not take into account the unreported violent or property crime that occurs in the county.
“The important thing to remember is that when you see that number decrease on paper, it’s actually a decrease in victims,” said Hickory Police Maj. Clyde Deal.
Deal attributes some of the decreases to increased communication efforts amongst area law enforcement. Programs like the Catawba County Gang Initiative, for example, have provided an additional outlet for different agencies to collaborate to stop violent crime.
“There is better communication between law enforcement agencies at the state, local and federal area than years past,” Deal said. “Crime doesn’t stay within one boundary. At all levels, there have been focuses on gang activity and gang prevention. There have been focuses on crime prevention and educating the public on how not to be victims of crimes.”
Hickory Police Department monitors their crime on a weekly basis.
Lieutenants are responsible for what happens in their area and pick up on reoccurring trends that may be surfacing in their region, Deal said.
At the county level, Reid said his department analyzes incident and arrest reports to locate areas that “are getting hit hard.” When law enforcement target or point out a certain area for a while, Reid said the incidents in that location usually go down.
“If a certain area is really getting hit with a lot of property crimes, for example, we concentrate a lot more police in that area so the three or four bad guys in that area get caught,” Reid said.
To access the state and county crime statistics, visit ncdoj.gov.