NC's 2011 crime rate lowest in decades
by Kellen Moore
Watauga County also showed a significant decrease from the previous year and performed well compared to other North Carolina counties, the data shows.
While the figures are a welcome trend, Cooper warned that successive years of budget cuts could make it harder for law enforcement to deal with crimes not included in the crime index, such as meth labs, prescription drug abuse and child pornography and exploitation.
"When we invest wisely in law enforcement, the result is safer communities," Cooper said in a statement. "It takes well-trained law enforcement using the latest technology to keep our crime rates low, and we need to make sure they have the tools needed to do the job."
The N.C. Department of Justice releases annual statistics each summer with its computations of the index crime rate, which shows each county's murders, rapes, robberies, aggravated assaults, burglaries, larcenies and motor vehicle thefts per 100,000 people.
For 2011, North Carolina's violent crime rate " which includes only murders, rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults " fell by 5.2 percent, according to justice department data.
But despite the overall decrease in violent crime, the murder rate statewide rose by nearly 6 percent.
The statewide property crime rate also fell by about one-half percent.
Among the 93 counties that reported totals to the state, Robeson County had the highest reported violent crime rate and Madison had the lowest.
Vance County had the highest property crime rate, while Camden County had the lowest, according to the department information.
This marks the third consecutive year that the state has charted its lowest crime rate in decades and continues North Carolina's long-term trend of falling crime rates, Cooper said.
In Watauga County, both violent crime and property crime fell more than the state as a whole, with a 27 percent drop in the index crime rate for 2011.
In fact, only five of the 93 counties that reported their statistics to the state had lower rates of violent crimes such as murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault. Those counties were Madison, Camden, Polk, Macon and Yancey.
Ten of the reporting counties had lower reported property crime rates than Watauga County, the data shows.
The full annual summary report is available online at http://www.ncdoj.gov.
While the index crime rate can be one indicator of the overall safety of a community, it isn't perfect. The rate obviously cannot account for crimes that occur but are not reported, and it doesn't include all types of malfeasance.
For example, the State Bureau of Investigation recorded a record number of meth labs last year at 344. Exactly 22 of those were in Watauga County, making it second highest in the state for meth labs.
Prescription drug abuse also continues to plague North Carolina, Cooper said, with more than 1,000 people overdosing on prescription drugs last year. Agents who work on prescription drug cases have seen a 400 percent increase in cases in a five-year period, he said.
"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," Cooper said. "We will continue the fight but risk losing ground."