Downtown Sees Drop in Crime
Crime in downtown Southern Pines is down significantly from last year, according to statistics provided by the Police Department.
That may come as a surprise to those who live, work or play in the downtown. Many residents and merchants have expressed concerns for some time that crime was up in the downtown this year.
But according the Southern Pines Police Department, overall crime is down 33 percent in the downtown area so far this year. Break-ins and larcenies are down more than that. The figures include crime statistics from the first two months of 2007 and 2008. Figures for March were not yet available.
There were 74 total crimes in the downtown business area during the first two months of 2007, according to police. That number decreased to 50 this year.
"So we're down on crime in the downtown area," said Detective Lt. Rodney Hardy.
The downtown area included in the figures encompasses much more than just the business area or historic district.
It's not just petty crimes that are down. Break-ins, burglaries and robberies are also down.
Burglaries declined 60 percent, from 10 this time last year to four this year. Larcenies from motor vehicles (one of the most common crimes in the downtown) are down 75 percent, from 12 to three. Vehicle break-ins are down 64 percent from 11 to four. Vandalism is down from nine to four.
The downtown did see an increase in drug violations. Five have occurred this year, compared to none last year.
So why are people so convinced that crime is up? For one thing, there have been several high-profile crimes during the month of March, for which the Police Department couldn't yet provide a comparison.
Two such examples were an armed robbery at O'Donnell's Pub and a break-in to the Teddy Bear Cottege where the thief or thieves smashed a front window with a rock.
"Another real part of that (feeling that crime is up) is perception," Chief John Letteney said. "But look at the statistics."
Jeffrey Sheer, former head of the Southern Pines Business Association, said he wished The Pilot would do a better job reporting on crime in downtown when it happens.
"I know concern over crime is up," he said. "My concern is that we often don't hear about things until it's too late. The rumor mill takes over. I think being aware of what's going on would ease people's concerns."
He said he'd like the newspaper or the Police Department to make information on crimes such as vandalisms and car break-ins more readily available.
Officers say that crime has decreased because of an increased police presence and because of efforts to educate the public. Police have included with Southern Pines water bills reminders for residents to lock their cars and be aware of their surroundings. Thieves will sometimes walk down the street trying car handles until they find one unlocked.
"That, in particular, is a crime of opportunity," Letteney said.
The police have also invited the public to take part in citizen enforcement programs.
"Our officers have been very proactive," Hardy said. "Those extra steps have led to several arrests."
Since Letteney took over the department, he has had uniformed officers walking the beat in downtown. The visible police presence acts as a deterrent to crime, he said.
Hardy, who is in charge of the detectives, said that he has staggered the detectives' schedules so that some plain-clothes officers are on duty during the night. They are often out driving unmarked cars.
"That way, they can detect (crime) when it occurs," Letteney said. "(Criminals) don't know that an officer is around. We've made some good arrests that way. So it's a multifaceted effort."
The public has a role to play in preventing crime and catching criminals, Letteney said. If residents or merchants suspect something, they should call the police, he said.
"Don't wait for something you know is a problem," he said. "If you feel uneasy, if you feel suspicious, call. We would 100 times rather respond to a call that's nothing."
Matthew Moriarty may be reached at 693-2479 or at email@example.com.
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