LAURINBURG — Scotland County fell from the top place in the state’s violent crime rankings — and experienced its lowest crime rate in nearly a decade — last year, according to statistics released this week by the N.C. Department of Public Safety.
In 2014, the county’s rate of violent crime fell to 642.2 per 100,000 in population, with a total of 226 actual murders, rapes, robberies, and aggravated assaults. Though that rate was the fifth-highest in the state, it is an improvement over 2013, when Scotland County experienced the state’s highest rate of violent crime at 791.9.
To Laurinburg Police Department Chief Darwin Williams, the decline is positive feedback for his department’s community-centric approach to preventing criminal activity.
“We’ve got more community involvement, we have citizens within the community who report suspicious activity so hopefully we can get to it before crimes take place,” he said. “Crime is an up-and-down trend. We have to adjust to what they’re doing as far as our techniques and what we’re doing to combat it.”
The crime rate in neighboring Robeson County restored it to the distinction of most violent in the state, with 859 violent crimes per 100,000 people. Robeson also had the highest overall crime rate statewide in 2014, with 6,844 crimes occurring per 100,000 residents.
Scotland County’s overall crime rate of 4,663 crimes per 100,000 residents was eighth highest in the state last year. Falling from 5,128 in 2013, the rate reached its lowest point since 2006.
Since taking office in December 2014, Sheriff Ralph Kersey has implemented a host of programs that he believes will keep the county’s crime rate on the decline, including nine neighborhood watch groups.
“I believe that the programs we’re implementing are helping us to deter crime,” he said. “Even though it’s our job to investigate crime when it happens, if we can deter it that’s way better.”
Kersey said that the sheriff’s office is solving more crimes than the previous administration, and that his office is committed to serving all filed criminal and civil papers to their intended recipient.
“What I foresee in looking at the numbers and the crimes that we’re actually solving and the property that we’re recovering, so far this year we’ve had no deaths by assault, so when our statistics come out with what our administration has done, I believe that we’ll be well outside of that top five,” he said.
Kersey applauded deputies for their attention to detail when responding to calls, no matter how routine, which he credited with the discovery earlier this week of a Laurel Hill methamphetamine lab.
“The officers here are very observant and they know that the administration is impressing upon them that every call they go on is important and to be looking for anything else that might be an indicator,” said Kersey.
“If we continue on the road that we’re on and our neighborhood watches continue to grow, then yes we can see a reduction in crime across the board.”
The Scotland County Sheriff’s Office website has also added free online services that notify users when deputies respond to calls in their area, map the location of sex offenders in their neighborhoods, and create a log of valuable items and their serial numbers in case of future theft.
“We have a very strong, proactive approach to everything we’re doing here,” said Kersey. “We’re doing everything possible to build a relationship with the public. What we’re trying to do with our programs is educate people as to how to help us help them.”
Aggravated assaults reported by the Laurinburg Police Department last year fell to 125 from 170 the previous year, while the number of aggravated assaults outside of Laurinburg remained steady with the Scotland County Sheriff’s Office reporting 48.
A total of 40 robberies were reported in Scotland County last year, 29 of them in Laurinburg, along with four murders and nine rapes.
Scotland County’s 2014 property crime count includes a total of 1,415 burglaries, larcenies, and motor vehicle thefts, down from 1,533 in 2013. The resulting property crime rate of 4,021 per 100,000 was the eighth-highest statewide last year, falling from seventh in 2013.
The region’s slow economic recovery, which has discouraged many residents, also makes an uphill battle of keeping down crime.
“When there are no jobs, folks are going to find ways to generate monies and that can contribute to some of our B&Es and larcenies,” said Williams. “We need to get folks to the point where they’re employable. We try to identify those who are able to work and from the police standpoint we try to encourage them to do something with their lives.”
In 2014, 382 larcenies were reported in the city, down from 424 the prior year. The number of larcenies also fell slightly in areas outside of the city, from 259 to 241.
A total of 729 burglaries were reported throughout the county last year, down from 791 in 2013, and the number of motor vehicle thefts rose from 59 to 63.
While Williams acknowledged that crime can never be completely eradicated from Scotland or any other county, he placed the responsibility for creating a safe atmosphere and anti-crime culture with the community as a whole.
“We’re only a generation away from turning things around: from the gangs being completely gone and raising the next generation to do things the right way,” Williams said. “It takes citizens wanting to be law-abiding citizens as well.”
Mary Katherine Murphy can be reached at 910-506-3169.