Every year, as if intended to dash the hopes that come with the new year, there it is — the SBI’s annual crime report that shows Robeson County first in violent crime, overall crime and, for 2015, even first in property crime.
We could set the calendar by its arrival.
And every year we dutifully, if reluctantly, tell our readers what the report says, knowing it will anger the local chambers of commerce and those who try to recruit business, industry, and professionals such as doctors and teachers (and reporters) in an effort to lift all of our boats. We know they prefer we just look the other way. Trust us, anyone interested in moving to Robeson County doesn’t need to read our pages to know about the crime rate. Google will spit up plenty of damning information.
So what do we make of the annual SBI report? Not much.
From a macro standpoint, it probably has value, because no one doubts that crime is a problem in Robeson County. It really isn’t close — and the annual report reflects that.
But the report is incredibly flawed: First, it relies on self-reporting, and this year only 88 of the state’s 100 counties provided comprehensive enough information to be included in the report. So maybe for next year one of our local law enforcement agencies can sit it out, and the county will be absent from the report.
Law enforcement folks will tell you that when people report crime in high numbers it indicates confidence in law enforcement, but when those numbers are low, it indicates little crime. The truth, of course, lies where it always does, in the middle.
The report also doesn’t put into context what we all know, that much of this county’s violent crime is gang- or drug-related, not random, so the threat is exaggerated.
If you read our story, which was published on Sunday without the benefit of comments from any high-ranking law enforcement officer as none returned out calls, you probably felt like you were drunk on alphabet soup, except there were numbers instead of letters. The numbers, including 39 murders in Robeson County during 2015, stack up heavily against us.
But the report provides nothing in the way of fixing the problem. Crime and poverty are attached at the hip, and until this county is more prosperous, not much will change in terms of our crime rate. And for this county to be more prosperous, we have to do a better job of educating our young people and giving them skills to perform good jobs.
And good jobs aren’t attracted to high-crime areas.
So around and around we go.
But there is also this: Robeson, with 952 square miles, is the largest county in North Carolina, so that brings in a lot of breeding grounds for criminal behavior.
Perhaps the safest place in North Carolina is Chapel Hill, which as often as not is able to make an orbit around the sun without a single murder. Eight miles way, and easily within that 952-mile perimeter, is Durham County, which ranks second to Robeson County when it comes to overall crime.
And there is no wall between Orange and Durham counties.
Our point is not that Robeson and Orange counties pose equal threats when it comes to crime. But no place is as safe — or dangerous — as it seems, and being law-abiding and aware remain the best ways to get through the day wherever you might be.