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Overall, crime stats are dropping

By Cleve R. Wootson Jr.
cwootson@charlotteobserver.com

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Sometimes, I go running at night.

When friends or colleagues relocating to Charlotte learn that I cover crime for the newspaper, they’ll inevitably ask how safe I think the city is.

I used to cite crime statistics, or the number of home break-ins per 100,000 people. Occasionally, I’d talk about the police department’s use of something called predictive analytics – only to watch eyes glaze over.

But the information about my nocturnal runs, I’ve found, has been the best indicator of how safe I feel in the city I’ve called home for nearly two decades.

“How safe?” can be a difficult question to answer. How safe one feels can vary from person to person. Different police departments can vary widely in how they classify crimes like an assault.

The FBI urges against comparisons based on the statistics it publishes for nearly every city.

That doesn’t stop some from trying. Infoplease ranked Charlotte as the eighth-safest big city in America.

But I run. And it gets dangerously hot in the summer time. So at some point I had to ask: Is it more dangerous to run at noon or midnight?

Here’s the big picture. Crime here is going down. It hit a peak in the early 1990s, when crack-cocaine destabilized inner-city neighborhoods all over the country. Charlotte had more than 120 homicides in 1993. But last year, Charlotte-Mecklenburg recorded its lowest number of homicides in 24 years – 52. The number of homicides has dropped each year since 2010.

Other crimes have gone down as well. Burglaries in 2012 were down 9.1 percent when compared to 2011.

But at the same time, violent crime increased 9.5 percent in 2012 compared to the year before. Property crime was up 1.8 percent.

And your car remains a target: Charlotte-Mecklenburg had 2,138 vehicle thefts in 2012, up nearly 2 percent from the previous year. Meanwhile, thefts from autos – when someone breaks into your car and steals something – remain the biggest crime in Charlotte. They account for nearly one in four of all crimes committed.

Of course, you’re also welcome to lace up your running shoes.

Cleve covers public safety for the Observer.
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