LUMBERTON — Although the number of violent crimes reported in Robeson County in 2011 decreased by about 13 percent from 2010, it wasn’t enough to drop the county from its No. 1 spot in the violent crime rankings, according to a report released this week by the N.C. Department of Justice. Robeson also maintained its No. 3 ranking in property crime.
Robeson’s violent crime rate dropped from 904.3 incidents per 100,000 people in 2010 to 780.6 in 2011, according to the report, which is a compilation of all the offenses reported to law enforcement agencies throughout North Carolina. The report defines violent crimes as murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault.
Robeson County has been first in the state for violent crimes since 2008, a problem Sheriff Kenneth Sealey blames partly on the local economy.
“There’s no jobs,” he said. “People are not working, and some are stealing everything they get their hands on … some of it’s for drugs, but some of it is just to live.”
Sealey said the Sheriff’s Office has been successful in putting “known” and “street-level” drug dealers in prison and that “the effort to do so will continue.”
Durham County was second in violent crime rate in the state, with a rate of 670.9 incidents per 100,000 people. Statewide, incidents of violent crime fell by more than 5 percent in 2011, but the murder rate rose by nearly 6 percent, according to the report.
North Carolina’s overall crime rate decreased by nearly 1 percent when compared with 2010, continuing a three-year trend which has led to the state reaching the lowest crime levels since 1977. Violent crimes fell by 5.2 percent, to a rate of 354.6 per 100,000 people, and property crime saw a 0.5 percent decrease to a rate of 3,565.2.
Robeson County’s rate of property crime, defined as burglary, larceny, and motor vehicle theft, rose slightly, from 6,315 incidents per 100,000 people in 2010 to 6,351 in 2011. That ranks Robeson behind Vance and Dare counties, which reported 7,672 and 6,454 incidents per 100,000 people respectively.
According to the report, the Sheriff’s Office reported a rate of 547 violent crimes per 100,000 people, a decrease of about 15 percent. Lumberton has the highest violent crime rate of county municipalities, reporting 1,776.4 crimes per 100,000; Red Springs reported a rate of 1,251; Pembroke, 1,208.5; Fairmont, 1,086.5; Maxton, 699.3; Rowland, 673.1; and St. Pauls, 307.6. Fairmont is the only municipality to see an increase in violent crime.
Sealey said the department has been trying to figure out better tactics for covering Robeson County’s 969 square miles, the most of any county in the state, including revising shifts that deputies work, and putting more deputies on the roads.
“We need more personnel,” Sealey said. “Locally, we haven’t lost any, which is a big plus, but we’ve been trying for years to get more. The number of deputies we have has has not increased in recent years, but our call volume has.”
Neighboring Bladen County saw a reduction in its property crime rate of about 14 percent, and the violent crime rate fell slightly. Cumberland County reported a slight decrease in the violent crime rate and about a 1 percent increase in property crime, while Scotland County saw about a 4 percent decrease in violent crime and a 12 percent increase in property crimes.
Hoke County’s violent crime rate rose by 19 percent, and property crimes fell by about 26 percent. Columbus County’s violent crime decreased by 26 percent, and property crimes also decreased, by a small margin.
Attorney General Roy Cooper is concerned that successive years of budget cuts are making it harder on law enforcement to do its job, especially as the state battles a surge in some crimes that aren’t included in the index crime rate, such as meth labs, prescription drug abuse, child pornography and exploitation.
“We 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,” said Cooper in the report. “We will continue to fight, but risk losing ground.”
The report can be found at http://crimereporting.ncdoj.gov/. Click on 2011 Annual Summary Report.