From the Charlotte Observer's Editorial Board:
Charlotte-Mecklenburg police provided some numbers to cheer last week: a 7.8 percent drop in the number of crimes in the city from Jan. 1 to Sept. 30, compared to 2010. Property crime fell 8.2 percent in that period, and violent crime 4.8 percent, and those numbers continue a significant decline in the number of crimes - 23 percent - in the past three years in Charlotte.
How did the city get there? Certainly, CMPD deserves applause for its police work, but criminologists warn that the underlying reasons for crime drops are complex and varied. Charlotte's numbers, in fact, mirror national drops in property and violent crimes, both short and long term.
The number of violent crimes in the United States fell 5.5 percent last year to the lowest rate in nearly four decades, according to FBI reports, perplexing experts who expected crime to rise during a period of economic hardship. Violent and property crime also have experienced long-term, sustained declines across the country, with violent crimes dropping steadily in the 1990s after a spike the decade before.
Criminologists offer several possible reasons for the declines, UNC Charlotte professor of criminal justice and criminology professor Robert Brame told the editorial board last week. Many cities increased the size of their police forces in the 1990s, Brame said, and a strong economy may have pulled criminals from the dangerous crack cocaine business into legitimate jobs.
Another factor: A large increase in the prison population, thanks to states widening the number of offenses that could lead to imprisonment.
Brame cautions, however, that crime numbers don't tell the complete story in cities. A U.S. Justice Department study showed about half of violent crimes and 60 percent of property crimes went unreported in 2009. Those numbers can vary from city to city - and neighborhood to neighborhood - based on factors that include confidence in police and an increase in Latinos, who historically are reluctant to report crimes.
But Brame also says that research affirms what common sense tells us - that more police on the street should lead to less crime. Credit for that in Charlotte goes to the City Council, which in 2006 voted to raise taxes, a third of which put 70 additional police officers on the street, and to CMPD for reassigning officers from specialty units to patrols.
CMPD also has put a priority on repeat offenders and vigorously increased its neighborhood policing efforts. The results of the latter move were illustrated in an Observer story last week that detailed how CMPD has successfully rid a North Davidson intersection of prostitutes and drugs.
CMPD Chief Rodney Monroe has had a sometimes bumpy tenure since he began in 2008. That includes a slow response to an uptown melee this summer, along with an officer, Marcus Jackson, being convicted of sexually assaulting six women after department screening didn't seem to produce red flags that might have prevented him from being hired.
But last week, good numbers arrived. Monroe and CMPD should be applauded for their role.