There is probably no government-generated report less reliable than the one on crime in North Carolina issued annually by the state Attorney General’s Office and the State Bureau of Investigation.
It doesn’t take a close examination to find errors. This year we did our double-take on the number of murders investigated by the Sheriff’s Office. The report said there were six in all of 2010. We knew better, asked, and the Sheriff’s Office told us there were 16.
The flaw is fundamental. The state depends on information that is provided by individual police departments and sheriff’s offices across the state, and there is just too much to undermine the accuracy of the report. Conspiracy theorists will insist that individual agencies depress the numbers to give a false read on the amount of crime in their communities. Maybe sometimes, but we believe most of the inaccuracies stem from sloppy record-keeping that can happen at a lot of levels and occurs without malice.
Additionally, if the Robeson County Sheriff’s Office wanted to cook the books, then the sure way to get busted would be to understate the number of murders, the crime with the highest profile.
We don’t believe that the state report, for all its flaws, is absent of utility. The picture it paints, however, get fuzzier as it shrinks.
We accept the state’s big-picture assertion that crime, both property and violent, has continued a happy downward trend in North Carolina. The report says that the crime rate for 2010 was the lowest in North Carolina since 1977, and the murder rate was the lowest since the report was first issued in 1973.
That’s good stuff.
In Robeson County, the news was less sparkling, although the crime rate, both for property and violence, did go down. But not enough, as Robeson County for the second straight year led the state in the rate of violent crime, and kept its No. 3 ranking in property crime.
Not so good stuff.
We doubt anyone will doubt those numbers. This county’s demographics are a toxic soup that promises a high rate of crime. But this county is also the largest in the state, and includes areas that are relatively free of crime, and others that are best not frequented. We question if there is an oasis anywhere in North Carolina or the United States where there isn’t a significant crime problem in a surrounding area that equals Robeson County’s 951 square miles.
Of all the indicators of crime, Nos. 1 and 2 have to be education and jobs, or jobs and education.
This county’s unemployment rate continues to hover around 12 percent, among the highest in the state, and each bit of good news on that front appears to be offset with bad news. Such arrived last week when the county school system was forced to lay off 235 teachers assistants because of budget cuts in Raleigh. That is a double-whammy, putting more families in financial stress, and complicating the Public Schools of Robeson County’s mission to educate our young people.
It’s simply more toxins for the soup.