With North Carolina crime rates falling to their lowest level in more than three decades last year, Lincoln County posted a dramatic reduction in crime, ahead of several neighboring counties.
The North Carolina Department of Justice recently released the 2011 crime rates for each of the state’s 100 counties. Rates have fallen steadily during the last three years, plummeting to the lowest they’ve been since 1977, according to an agency press release.
Lincolnton Police Chief Rodney Jordan credited Lincoln County’s overall crime drop to a “better-educated” population.
“People … know what to look for when it comes to crimes in and around their community,” he said.
Jordan additionally believed a larger segment of the population learned to lock doors and report crime.
Sheriff David Carpenter told the Times-News this week that the decrease in property crimes shocked him, considering the unstable nature of the current economy and the fact that both drug abuse and the need for money often lead to other offenses.
He went on to say that drug-use is the “most problematic issue plaguing our nation” and that nearly 90 percent of Lincoln County crime has involved illegal substances.
The crime rates are estimated by taking the total number of indexed crimes and dividing by the population, then multiplying by 100,000; in theory this represents how many crimes would have occurred at the same rate if every county had a population of 100,000.
Three of Lincoln’s surrounding counties also reflected decreases in their overall crime rates while Catawba’s numbers rose by nearly 6 percent and Burke’s by more than 25 percent.
Despite the county’s declining rates in overall crime, the violent crime rate swelled from 138.7 in 2010 to 171.6 in 2011, according to the NCDOJ website.
The county witnessed a drop in homicides but a spike in aggravated assaults, Carpenter said. The violent crime rate in Lincoln still remained well-below that in surrounding counties.
Lincoln’s nearly 24 percent increase considerably stood out against Cleveland and Gaston counties’ significant drops in violent crime last year, at 27.6 percent and 14.7 percent respectively. Burke County, which experienced an 18 percent increase in violent crime from 2010 to 2011, displayed the second-lowest rate in the area.
Jordan agreed with the Sheriff that the economy and “continued high levels of unemployment” have affected the frequency of violent crime.
“The constant stress and depression of not having a job can lead to arguments,” Jordan said. Individuals also fall prey to substance abuse when they’re depressed, heightening anger levels, he said.
Despite overall improvements in the crime rate, Lincoln County’s economy has continued to struggle with more chronic unemployment and poverty than some of its neighbors.
Jordan also felt that youth’s lack of discipline and maturity contributed to the area’s rise in violent offenses.
“Younger individuals who commit violent crimes do not fully understand the consequences of their actions,” he said.
“We live in a different world than that of our parents and grandparents … it’s up to all of us … to mentor our youth and provide opportunities in life … to teach them morals, values and responsibility.”
Despite crime’s constant ebb and flow and roller coaster ride of peaks and plunges, Jordan said law enforcement officers’ responsibilities should remain steady, keeping crime activity low by studying crime trends and attacking issues before they escalate.
“We are very fortunate in Lincolnton to have that small-town charm and mentality and people who are willing to look out for their neighbors and speak up when they see something happening,” he said.
While Carpenter didn’t detail any future initiatives his agency has planned for maintaining Lincoln County crime reduction, he said the Sheriff’s Office will never stop rooting out offenders.
“We will continue to aggressively seek out those that commit these crimes and prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law,” he said.
For more information on North Carolina crime rates, visit ncdoj.gov.