02/28/10 — City sees drop in crime in 2009

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City sees drop in crime in 2009

By Nick Hiltunen
Published in News on February 28, 2010 8:12 AM

The city of Goldsboro's crime statistics held a number of surprises and seeming contradictions in 2009 -- one of the most notable being the lowest number of reportable major crimes in four out of the last five years, police Chief Tim Bell said.

But while crime overall was down about 6 percent, certain serious crimes -- such as rape and homicide -- were up when compared to the previous year.

However, violent crime as a whole, when including offenses like armed robberies, was down 2 percent overall.

While concerned about the increase in rapes and murders, Bell said he was encouraged -- although perhaps caught off-guard -- by another statistic: Shoplifting and misdemeanor larceny showed a statistically significant decrease.

Bell and Operations Maj. Mike Hopper said they were surprised to see the figure drop by 7 percent in 2009, as Americans suffered through one of the worst recessions in history.

Hopper and Bell had assumed that a bad economy would lead to more reported shoplifting and larceny incidents, they said.

"Especially when you consider the economy and the unemployment rate, you would kind of expect to see a rise in crime when you had a year like that, but we actually saw a decrease," Bell said.

Nationally reported crime statistics are compiled using the Uniform Crime Reporting system, which is compiled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Crimes that are measured include armed robberies, murders, rapes, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, vehicle theft and arson, among others. The reportable crimes are split into two major indexes -- violent and property crimes.

The violent crime index was down 2 percent in 2009, because of a large drop in reported robberies.

Robberies were down 21 percent, to a total of 92 reports compared to 117 in 2008, Bell and Hopper reported.

"Robberies were the biggest things that brought down that violent crime index," Bell said. "We work all crimes hard, but robberies, because of their violent nature, and because many of them are armed robberies, we really go after them and try to solve them."

Bell and Hopper have both been with the department for almost 28 years, and said they have noticed a cyclical nature to reports of armed robberies -- periods of low numbers followed by surges in armed robbery reports.

Police officials said that is probably because many perpetrators are repeat offenders.

"Not everybody is a repeat offender, but many times, (certain defendants) will go to prison, and if you keep the right ones in prison, your robberies will go down," Bell said.

Overall, requests for police assistance were down this past year.

"Our calls for service went down 2 percent compared in 2009. We answered 61,979 for service (this year)," Bell said.

That figure includes all calls for service, not just the crimes that police are required to enter into the Uniform Crime Reporting system.

Bell and Hopper said they are happy with 2009's crime statistics, but also noted they depend on a responsible citizenry for the best results.

"Any law enforcement department, whether police, sheriff or whatever, can only be as good as the community. And what I mean by that is community assistance ... the majority of our crimes are solved because the community wants to get involved to see something better take place," Bell said.

In that way, seemingly prying neighbors can sometimes be a blessing, the chief said.

"When you have people who are nosy neighbors, that can be a good thing. When something doesn't look right, or when they see a crime in progress, those things really help us solve crimes, and help us to keep crimes from happening," Bell said.

The police officials also discussed traffic concerns, including speeding.

Hopper said that although speeding is a minor offense, it can result in accidents.

"We charged almost 2,900 (people) with speeding last year," Hopper said. "The higher the speed, the more severity of the injuries in the accident."

The police major said people who speed often use the excuse that they are late for work -- a reason that does not hold water with Hopper.

"A lot of people don't allow enough time to get where they're going," Hopper said. "Instead of leaving 20 minutes early, they'll run right out the door at 8 a.m. People seem to be in a hurry, and a lot of people are driving distracted.

"It's illegal to text (and drive) now, but (drivers) are distracted by a lot of electronic devices, not just cell phones," Hopper said.

Because officers rarely observe a crash as it is happening, it can be difficult to identify which accidents involve driver distraction by electronic gadgets, the major said.

"I don't see it in a lot of the (police report) narratives, but I know a lot of officers suspect that drivers had been distracted by cell phones," Hopper said.

However, if officers suspect that cell phone use played a role in a fatal accident, they will have investigation tools at their disposal, he said.

"If we have a real major crash, or a fatality, officers can subpoena phone records," Hopper said. "It (cell phone distraction) has been suspected in a lot of minor crashes, but people won't own up to it," Hopper said.

The police major said he sometimes talks on the phone while driving, and notices a major difference in the way he responds to roadway obstacles.

"I talk on the phone when I drive on occasion, and it really impairs your abilities, because you're not concentrating on driving," Hopper said.

The police major said that while crime statistics will fluctuate every year, he is optimistic about his community.

"The vast majority of our citizens are peaceful, honest, hardworking people," Hopper said. "It's a minority that commit the crimes, and that's who we concentrate on. The majority of our citizens want to come home to their family, and have a decent life, and that's what we're trying to help them accomplish."