Pubdate: Tue, 20 Jun 2006
Source: Asheville Citizen-Times (NC)
Copyright: 2006 Asheville Citizen-Times
Author: Clarke Morrison


ASHEVILLE - While North Carolina's rate of violent crime surged in 
2005, Asheville experienced a decline that Police Chief Bill Hogan 
said he believes might be attributable to a crackdown on the city's drug trade.

A report released Monday by N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper shows 
the state's rate of crimes such as murder, rape, robbery and 
aggravated assault increased by 3.7 percent over the previous year. 
The increase was led by a 9.5 percent spike in homicides. There were 
582 homicides last year, up from a low of 508 two years ago, but down 
22 percent over the past decade. Cooper called the latest figures troubling.

"We can't relax," he said. "We don't have the violent crime we saw in 
the early '90s, but we could be headed back that way if we don't 
concentrate on what we need to do for law enforcement."

Asheville had 434 violent crimes last year, down from 473 in 2004. 
Murders in the city declined from six to two, rapes were down from 36 
to 16, while aggravated assaults were up slightly from 180 to 187.

The number of robberies dipped from 251 to 229, ending a long run of 
increases from the 170 committed in 1994.

The city's drop in violent crime coincides with the creation of a 
14-officer drug suppression unit in August 2004, shortly after Hogan 
was hired as chief. City Council had directed the agency to target 
drug crimes, particularly at public housing complexes.

Less drug activity can translate into fewer crimes such as robbery 
often committed by drug users, he said.

"I'd like to think the drug suppression unit in conjunction with our 
patrol districts and the detectives focusing on drug activity is 
impacting some on that violent crime," Hogan said. "Knowing the trend 
in the state is for those crimes to go up, it's even more gratifying.

"It's everybody working together as a team department-wide to focus 
on this drug activity and run it out of the neighborhoods."

Most Western North Carolina counties have significantly less violent 
crime than the state as a whole, according to the report. Law 
enforcement jurisdictions in Buncombe County reported 287.7 violent 
crimes per 100,000 people in 2005, compared with 478.1 per 100,000 in 
North Carolina.

The region's lowest was Macon County with 31.2 per 100,000. But 
Madison, with a rate of 740.8 per 100,000, and Swain, with a rate of 
727.5 per 100,000, were among the state's highest.

Madison County Sheriff John Ledford said he believes the figures 
might be wrong. He said his department will review the data it 
supplied to the state "and make sure that we have an accurate 
calculation of what the crime rate is."

"It seems like the figures are skewed," Ledford said.

Cooper blamed a lack of resources as a possible reason for the 
statewide increase in violent crime, although he praised authorities 
for working to lower property crimes by 1 percent, the fourth 
consecutive decrease in those offenses.

Among his recommendations to state lawmakers, Cooper requested 
additional manpower and access for the state's DNA lab, along with 
more workers at the state Crime Lab. He also wants to expand the 
state's sex offender database, keeping the public informed about 
offenders in their neighborhood.
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