08/06/12 — Crime statistics released

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Crime statistics released

By John Joyce
Published in News on August 6, 2012 1:46 PM

Statistics can be misleading. Numbers can be skewed. Perspectives can vary.

But there is nothing up for debate when it comes to murder.

The Department of Justice has released findings that announce a 0.9 percent decrease in statewide crime from to 2010 to 2011. The statewide statistical drop amounts to a 33-year low for North Carolina crime rates.

But that is not the case here at home.

In Goldsboro, the city's murder rate increased by 40 percent.

According to the report, violent crime fell by 5.2 percent across the state and property crime was down half a percent.

But according to a Goldsboro Police Department report similar to the one filed by the Department of Justice, crime here increased by 2 percent -- and the state's murder rate went up 5.9 percent, as compared to a much more substantial increase in the city.

As alarming as that might seem, the actual increase in murders in 2011 was numerically two. In 2010, there were five homicides, as opposed to seven the following year. By the police department's measure, violent crime is down 9 percent while property crime has risen 4 percent. Rape, robbery and aggravated assaults are down. Simple assaults, larcenies and vehicle thefts are up.

Goldsboro police Chief Jeff Stewart said the statistics are good news.

"Other than two areas, robbery and homicide, crime is down," he said. "The national clearance rate for (solving) cases was 22 percent. Ours was 30 percent."

That means 30 percent of the time, someone answers for the crimes that are committed on Goldsboro's city streets, leaving 70 percent still without a resolution.

"Sometimes there are just no witnesses," Stewart said of the unsolved cases.

Not every unsolved crime is a cold case. There are also false reports, insurance fraud cases and things of that nature that fall into the 70 percent.

"Don't forget that the burden of proof rests on law enforcement," Stewart said.

With more community involvement, the chief is convinced the statistics could be impacted even more.

He encourages members of the community to report suspicious activity and for those who have knowledge of crimes in their neighborhood to utilize Crime Stoppers to report them.

Despite the initial inclination to applaud the reduction, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper expressed reservations at a news conference held at his office.

"The murder rate went up. We need to heed these warning signs because crime could significantly increase if we do not put the investment in law enforcement and technology that's needed," he said.

Wayne County Sheriff Carey Winders has seen this report and others like it in the past. In his experience the accuracy of such data can vary.

"It depends how they report. Sometimes the criteria they use, in my opinion, makes it seem crime is in reduction," Winders said.

And with seven murders already accumulated, 2012 is on pace to meet or exceed 2007 as having the most killings per year in a decade. The Wayne County Sheriff's Office recorded three additional murders.

Cooper said a tough economy and budget constraints have forced cities and states nationwide to cut funding to law enforcement and other civil service agencies. He said he is concerned that these imposed limitations will negatively impact the marginal reductions in crime statistics in the coming year and beyond.

And if local trends are any indication, Cooper might be correct.

The sheriff's office has certainly felt the pinch.

Over the last four years, a request to the state for eight additional officers has garnered only two.

"We've got seven deputies on duty per shift, minus their vacation and sick time, court appearances, state mandated class time for annual certification." said Winders, who admits his office is fortunate. His budget was approved and he got the two new deputies. Other departments have received no additional officers. Some have even had to cut manpower.

"It's more cost-effective for the county to pay overtime than to pay for additional officers with the added benefits, retirement and equipment costs that would come along with them."