bladenjournal.com

Crime stats don’t paint entire picture

Erin Smith

September 10, 2013

Attorney General Roy Cooper recently released the state crime statistics and by all accounts, the numbers look very promising on the surface as crimes throughout the state seem to be dropping.


When we took a close look at Bladen County’s crime numbers for the past year, we were surprised to see they had actually ticked upward. If you look at W. Curt Vincent’s story on Page 1A in today’s Bladen Journal, you will see how much the crime rate increased in the past year— as well as a comparison to surrounding counties.


On the surface it would seem our local criminals have been busy over the past year. Is there a crime wave starting here?


Some folks would even look at the numbers, scratch their heads, and make accusatory statements against our fine members of the law enforcement community. I say, hold on a minute before we begin searching for someone to blame. Let’s examine exactly what is known here. We know the overall crime rate, we are given the violent crime numbers and property crime numbers. I don’t see an overall case closed rate (that is crimes SOLVED) anywhere in those numbers for either the county or municipal agencies for the same year. So, I want to know, where are those numbers and why are those numbers not included? Also, I don’t see an arrest rate for the county our local municipal agencies listed either for the same year. Where is the arrest rate? Why were those numbers not included in the report? We need to have those numbers as well to have a truly clear picture and appreciation of what exactly is taking place in our county in terms of crimes and arrests.


Anyone can take numbers and make them read any way they wish. Before we tar and feather our local police officers, let’s take a closer look. Vincent has noted on more than one occasion that the crime logs reflect a disproportionate number of crimes reported compared to the number of arrests. Those appear in the Bladen Journal crime blotter on Fridays.


So, I posed the following question: Has the crime rate really increased that much or have our citizens become so fed up with the bad guys that they are now reporting crimes that, in the past, they may have remained silent about? While we have no true answer to this question it does bear some thought here.


With the advent of the 24-hour news cycle, we see and hear about crimes in “real time,” as it happens. Information about the crime reported changes at the speed light as the situations are “fluid” and we sit glued to our television sets as the broadcaster announces the latest known details. The journalists will call the police department, the fire department, the mayor of the town and even interview on live television the assailant’s great-grandmother, hoping to gain some nugget of insight into why this individual went wrong.


With the advent of the Internet, crimes can be communicated and reported much more quickly than in years past. With the ability to better educate the public about crimes happening in a particular neighborhood, it makes the residents more aware and pay closer attention to what they are seeing.


Some residents are asking whether our local investigators have stopped solving crimes? I don’t think so. They spend their time interviewing witnesses and victims, testifying in court, in training classes, continuing education, firearms training and a whole host of other duties. That is not counting allowing time for volunteer activities and family-related activities — and some even make the time in their busy schedules to pursue four-year degrees in criminal justice.


Folks also need to remember our local law enforcement officers are only as good at solving crimes as the information they receive. In other words, if a witness or crime victim is uncooperative, it makes their job that much harder at catching the bad guys and figuring out “who done it.” If you have a tip, phone it in. Help the police departments to know what is happening and where, otherwise, they can do nothing about what they don’t know.


While I agree on the surface it appears the crime statistics have increased over the past year, there are also some numbers suspiciously absent the report as well. Without those numbers, it is in my opinion, we don’t have a true snapshot of the crime numbers in the county or in our local municipalities. So before we bash our police officers, let’s get a few numbers out there on the table to examine.


— Erin Smith is a staff writer with the Bladen Journal. She can be reached by telephone at 910-862-4163 or by email at erinsmith@civitasmedia.com.