Winston-Salem sees rise in major crimes

Through the first six months of the year, reports of most major crimes in Winston-Salem increased more than 15 percent over the same period last year.

The rise is led by a 36 percent jump in aggravated assaults – nonfatal shootings, stabbings and beatings. Reports of robberies are up about 16 percent, break-ins are up 18percent, theft is up 20 percent, and reports of car theft are also up 20 percent.

Police have made more arrests – robbery and assault arrests both increased by 33 percent from last year – and said that so far there are no clear explanations for the increases in reported crimes.

“We've not really seen any hard trends that we can put our finger on,” said Barry Rountree, the assistant chief of the patrol division, which handles most investigations of assaults, and investigates break-ins, thefts and car thefts.

A tough economy can play a part in driving crime, but that's only one of many possible explanations, Rountree said.

In recent years, law-enforcement officials have pointed to increases in drug-related crime, gang-related crime and crime committed by young men as likely explanations for crime increases.

Whether that's true of the recent increases isn't clear yet, said Rick Pender, the program director at the Center for Community Safety. “We haven't been able to dig deeper locally into the data,” Pender said.

The patrol division has two investigators who handle cases not sent to the detectives division, such as car break-ins and car theft. They are kept busy by any rashes of crime, Rountree said.

Police have focused on robberies this year, forming a task force of officers to patrol high-crime areas after an increase that earlier was as high as 40percent over last year's numbers.

Reports of robberies were down in June, with 58 reported, compared with 70 last June.

Two major crimes are down so far this year. Reports of rape have declined from 64 to 49. Police have investigated seven homicides so far this year, down from 15 in 2007.

At this pace, the city is on track for one of its lowest homicide totals in recent years, only a year removed from one of its deadliest years. There were 25 homicides in 2007, the most homicides in the city since 1996.