AG concerned that recent budget cuts could reverse trend
Reports of crime across North Carolina fell by 5.6 percent while violent crime dropped by 10.2 percent in 2010, Attorney General Roy Cooper announced Tuesday. It’s the lowest crime rate for North Carolina since 1977 and includes the lowest murder rate since North Carolina began collecting statewide crime statistics in 1973.
While the Attorney General lauded the drop in crime, he warned that future success will be more difficult due to recent budget cuts to law enforcement personnel and equipment.
“Well-trained law enforcement, up-to-date technology and smart prevention efforts are key to solving and reducing crime,” Cooper said. “To keep crime rates moving down, we need better budget decisions that promote public safety, not hurt it.”
The overall rate of index crime per 100,000 persons in North Carolina decreased by 5.6 percent compared to 2009. The rate of violent crime per 100,000 North Carolinians dropped 10.2 percent according to reports submitted to the State Bureau of Investigation from law enforcement agencies across the state. Rates fell in all violent crime categories: murders were down 7.3 percent; rapes declined 14.3 percent; robberies dropped 19.4 percent; and aggravated assaults were down 5.3 percent.
The rate of property crimes—burglary, larceny, and motor vehicle theft—decreased by 5.1 percent statewide. Reports of motor vehicle theft fell 12.5 percent, while reports of burglary fell 5.3 percent and reports of larceny fell 4.3 percent. Juvenile arrests for index crime offenses fell 9 percent, while adult arrests for those offenses fell 1 percent. Juvenile arrests for all crimes dropped 7 percent, while adult arrest for all crimes fell 2 percent.
This marks the second year in a row that North Carolina has seen its lowest crime rate in decades and it continues the long term trend of falling crime rates. But Cooper is concerned that recent budget cuts to the Highway Patrol, the SBI, law enforcement training personnel, and proven prevention efforts could make it harder to fight crime.
The SBI must cut 9 percent of its budget, including 42 positions and a cut of approximately 20 percent to its equipment budget, which pays for high-tech instruments in the State Crime Lab. The Justice Academy, which trains law enforcement, must cut 9 percent as well, and lose 8 positions. The Highway Patrol could see layoffs with a $20 million cut over two years. Drug treatment courts that divert substance abusers from criminal court if they get treatment and make reparations were eliminated.
In addition, North Carolina stands to lose federal grants for law enforcement because the General Assembly failed to bring the state into compliance with the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act, or SORNA. The program, part of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, provides baseline standards for sex offender registration and notification to ensure consistency among registries across the country. Failure to comply means that the state could lose 10 percent of Byrne-JAG funds designated for North Carolina.
“What law enforcement and the communities they serve are doing is working, and taking away tools to prevent crime and solve cases could send North Carolina in the wrong direction,” Cooper said. “Even with today’s shrinking budgets we must make sure law enforcement gets the tools and technology needed to keep up with crime trends so we don’t lose ground.”
Cooper pointed to several important investments in law enforcement made over the past decade. The State Crime Lab had just five experts to analyze DNA in 2001 but has more than 40 working today. Adding analysts allowed the lab to work with local law enforcement agencies to clear all untested rape kits from their shelves.
North Carolina also expanded its DNA database, from approximately 18,700 profiles in 2000 to more than 200,000 today, by including samples from all convicted felons starting in 2003 and from certain arrestees starting this year. A larger DNA database means law enforcement can solve more crimes by matching crime scene evidence to suspects. North Carolina got more hits to the database in 2010 alone than in the first ten years of the DNA program combined.
Other key investments made in recent years include establishing the SBI’s first Computer Crimes Unit to fight child predators and pornographers, starting a fusion center to gather and evaluate information on terrorist threats and gang activity, doubling the size and the number of experts at the Western Regional Crime Lab in Asheville, adding 22,000 square feet to house more analysts and equipment at the main Crime Lab in Raleigh, and opening the Triad Regional Crime Lab in Greensboro.
“Our investments in law enforcement have paid off,” Cooper said. “A falling crime rate means North Carolina is safer, but if we stop investing in public safety we risk falling behind.”
While the annual statistics show that overall crime is down, law enforcement is battling surges in some crimes that aren’t part of the index crime rate, such as methamphetamine labs and prescription drug fraud.
Meth lab busts have crept back up in the last couple of years, with 206 labs busted in North Carolina in 2009 and 235 meth labs in 2010, thanks to the growing popularity of the one pot or shake and bake method for making meth. A bill signed into law last week is expected to help curb the rise by instituting an electronic tracking system to stop improper sales of pseudoephedrine, the key ingredient in meth, starting January 1.
Prescription drug fraud and abuse are growing problems in North Carolina and elsewhere, Cooper said. The SBI’s drug diversion unit, which investigates prescription drug fraud by health care professionals, has seen its caseload grow by more than 75 percent in recent years. Abuse of drugs such as painkillers and stimulants are especially prevalent among young people and often result in overdose deaths. To prevent prescription drugs from falling into the wrong hands, Cooper, the SBI, Safe Kids North Carolina and others recently collected more than 2.2 million doses of old prescription drugs during Operation Medicine Drop events statewide.
For more information about 2010 crime statistics, go to www.ncdoj.gov. Click “Crime,” then “View Crime Statistics.” To view or print a summary of 2010 crime statistics, click “2010 Annual Summary Report.” More detailed statistics will be available online in the coming days. The North Carolina Uniform Crime Reporting Program is part of a nationwide effort administered by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.