The number of violent crimes reported in Scotland County was down in 2011 compared to the year before, according to a report released this week by the North Carolina Department of Justice.
The incidence of reported rapes in the county at its lowest level in more than a decade.
In 2011, 479.1 violent crimes were committed per 100,000 county residents, including seven murders, five rapes, and 58 robberies. That figure is down from 505.9 violent crimes in 2010, and the lowest rate of violent crime in Scotland County since 2007.
In 2010, six murders, 11 rapes, and 44 robberies were reported. A decade ago, in 2002, the violent crime rate was 451.1 per 100,000 of population.
The decrease in rapes reported, to 14.4 per 100,000 from 30.6 in 2010, marks a lower rate than the county has seen since before 2002, the time period reflected in the Department of Justice report. But Laurinburg police Captain Kim Monroe says that rates of violent crime are rarely systematic.
“Violent crime has no particular pattern; some years you’ll have more than others,” Monroe said. “There’s no real way to predict how those crimes will arise.”
Scotland County Sheriff Shep Jones said that the apparent decrease in rapes may reflect a reluctance of victims to report such crimes.
“I would hope that it’s not because the victims are not reporting it,” Jones said. “I would hope that if anyone is assaulted or raped, they would report it to authorities so we can prosecute it tot he fullest extent of the law.”
The rate of property crime, including B&E’s and larcenies, has risen from the 2010 level, to 5,019.5 per 100,000 from 4,475.6. In total, 1,928 crimes were reported in Scotland County in 2011, up from 1,792 in 2010.
According to Monroe, the increase in property crime may be attributable to the number of unemployed Scotland County residents.
“Property crime is most likely on the rise because of the unemployment rate at this point,” said Monroe. “The two are definitely correlated. We find a lot of stolen property in pawn shops and a lot of homes have been broken into and property taken. I don’t think they necessarily take it for their own use, they take it for financial gain.”
Jones added that an increase in the number of vacant homes countywide, primarily rental properties, may also have tempted thieves and vandals looking for an easy target.
“I would say that property crime has a lot to do with the copper and copper metal theft that we’re having with a lot of businesses, churches, and also residences,” Jones said. “We’re finding a lot of vacant homes in the county where property crimes are committed.”
Despite a 5.9 percent increase in murders statewide, North Carolina’s overall crime rate is the lowest since 1977.
According to Attorney General Roy Cooper, this may be a symptom of budget cuts that limit the capabilities of local law enforcement officers. Cooper said that the departments of Justice and Public Safety have lost a combined $31 million in funding.
“I think what this tells us is that we must be vigilant in giving law enforcement the tools to prevent crime, especially to solve violent crimes like murder,” Cooper said. “When we invest wisely in law enforcement the result is safer communities. It takes well trained law enforcement using the latest technology to keep our crime rates low and we need to make sure that they have the tools that they need to do the job.”
In the face of cuts that have trickled down to the local level, individual officers are shouldering increased responsibility.
“Even with the budget cuts, people are stepping up and taking on additional responsibilities to make Scotland County a safer place,” Jones said.