Violent crimes in Sampson County dropped in 2012 as reflected in numbers released by both the Sampson County Sheriff’s Office and the Clinton Police Department, reflecting a decrease in murders, rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults reported.
The trend was similarly lower in non-violent offenses — burglaries, larcenies and motor vehicle thefts — across the county, but those numbers were elevated in the city, where larcenies in 2012 rose by 56 from 2011.
Both the city and county fared better than the state in violent crimes, where numbers rose slightly from 2011 to 2012, according to crime rate statistics released last week by N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper.
Sheriff Jimmy Thornton and police Chief Jay Tilley were cautiously optimistic about the reduction in Sampson’s violent crime numbers, acknowledging that while it is difficult to control murders and rapes, a proactive approach to such crimes as robberies can make — and often has — a significant difference, something evidenced in the 2012 numbers.
The overall rate of index crimes per 100,000 persons in North Carolina decreased by 4.4 percent compared to 2011 and is the state’s lowest since 1976. The rate of violent crimes in the state rose 0.6 percent. Among violent crimes, rape decreased 1 percent, robbery dropped 3 percent and murder decreased 3.8 percent, while aggravated assault rose 2.4 percent. The rate of property crimes statewide decreased by 4.9 percent.
For the county, numbers fell in both the violent and non-violent categories, a first in many years, according to Thornton, who said he was pleased to see the downward trend.
Based on 2012 crime stats released by the Department of Justice, Sampson had 4 murders; 5 rapes; 16 robberies; and 57 aggravated assaults, all categorized as violent offenses. In crimes listed as non-violent, 2012 stats show Sampson had 772 burglaries; 544 larcenies; and 77 motor vehicle thefts. In 2011, there were 8 rapes; 24 robberies; 33 aggravated assaults; 836 burglaries; 606 larcenies; and 90 motor vehicle thefts.
“I’m pleased that overall our numbers are down,” Thornton said, “but you can never be satisfied completely. We must keep up the work, remain vigilant and do the jobs were are charged with doing.”
The sheriff credited the lower numbers to a proactive approach that moves officers and the Criminal Interdiction Division team into areas where crimes are occurring.
“Presence is everything,” Thornton asserted. “Having our CID team in an area, detectives canvassing and deputies on the roads, all that makes a difference. Criminals tend to stay clear of areas where we have high visibility… visibility is about 90 percent of it.”
The sheriff was cautiously optimistic about the downward trend in criminal activity, noting that the numbers are a good indicator of the work being done by his law enforcement officers in communities across Sampson.
“The lower rate shows and supports our proactive approach. It shows our dedication to dealing with the criminal element in this county. There’s still a lot of work to be done, but we are moving in the right direction.
That work, stressed Sheriff’s Capt. Eric Pope, extends to citizens, as well, who are continuously urged to take a proactive approach, to assisting officers in protecting them against crime.
That’s particularly true in areas of non-violent crimes, such as break-ins, where cautionary steps can prevent crime or, should one occur, assist in solving crimes and recovering property.
“Making sure your doors and windows have secure locks, keeping shrubs and bushes trimmed so as not to be good hiding places and copying down serial numbers of all personal property are good steps to take,” Pope stressed, noting that serial numbers can be traced through information banks, such as the National Criminal Information Center, property located and crimes solved.
“It certainly helps with the solvability rate,” Pope stressed. “In a rural environment like ours, with well over 960 square miles, it’s hard for a deputy on patrol to be everywhere. That’s while it’s imperative for citizens to take these kinds of steps.”
Tilley stressed similar steps for citizens in Clinton, noting that moving things out of plain site from would-be criminals, such as items left under an open garage, make it more difficult for property crimes to occur.
“A lot of that is opportunity thefts,” the chief stressed. “Somebody is walking by a residence, sees something under a carport or garage that’s not secure and they just grab it and leave. Making those things less available is a help, no question.
While Clinton’s violent crime rate, like Sampson’s, was down, the city did experience a slight spike in non-violent crimes, particularly in the area of larcenies.
In 2012, the city had 1 murder; no rapes; 11 robberies and 24 aggravated assaults as compared to no murders, 5 rapes, 14 robberies and 30 aggravated assaults in 2011. In non-violent crimes, there were 111 burglaries, 389 larcenies, and 13 motor vehicle thefts in 2012 as compared to 147 burglaries, 333 larcenies and 20 motor vehicle thefts in 2011.
“It’s the larcenies,” Tilley said, “that created the spike.”
Larcenies, he said, include shoplifting, which has seen its own rise in recent years. “I’d say a lot of ours is coming from shoplifting, and again those opportunity thefts.”
Like Thornton, the police chief pointed to proactive policing as one of the reasons violent crimes, in particular, are down.
“Murders and rapes we have very little control over, but robberies are different. We have diverted our resources to clear cases quickly because once word gets out, people tend to know.
“Take some of our recent robberies as an example. As soon as we made an arrest, things quieted down. It’s what you have to do when you get hit hard in an area — take those resources you have and focus hard. The flip side is that often takes away from other things we do.”
But Tilley believes that approach has proven to be the best at both solving crimes and, in many cases, reducing them.
“Like everything else, crime is trendy, and what might be on the increase today might not be next week, but we focus in on those areas where we are being hit hard and we try to make an impact. So far we’ve been pretty successful.”