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FBI: Violent Crimes Up, Property Crimes Decline In North Carolina

A picture of lights on a police car.
Alejandro Mejía Greene/JubiloHaku
Flickr Creative Commons

Violent crime – especially rape – increased in North Carolina in 2015, continuing an upward trend that began in 2013, according to federal statistics released this week.

On the whole, violent crimes, including murder, rape and assault, had been on the decline in North Carolina since the 1990s. The decline in that time period was even more stark than the raw numbers suggested because they came at a time in which the state’s population was increasing. Even with a growing population, violent crimes declined.

Since 2013, however, that trend has reversed with violent crimes increasing not only absolutely, but also when measured against the growing population, according to the 2015 crime statistics released this week by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

In comparing 2015 to 2014, violent crimes increased in North Carolina at a rate higher than in many other states. In North Carolina last year, for every 100,000 population, there were nearly 30 rapes on average. While that figure was below the nation as a whole, it increased at a rate more than double the national rate. The reverse was true for murder. Although North Carolina’s murder rate increased at a clip lower than that of the nation, the overall murder rate of 5.1 per 100,000 population was higher than the national average.

A look at how crimes have increased in the past year
Credit Federal Bureau of Investigation / FBI
Percentage increase per 100,000 population in types of crimes in North Carolina, the South and the nation

Philip J. Cook, a professor of Public Policy at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy, noted the "relatively peaceful time" that North Carolina had enjoyed, but that, "The new FBI report for 2015 suggests a troubling reversal of this long trend.… That still leaves us far safer than in the 'bad old days' of the early 1990s, but if there is continued growth at this rate it will be cause for alarm."

On an absolute basis, North Carolina in 2015 had 34,852 violent crimes, or 2,134 more than in 2014, a 6.5 percent increase. The breakdown includes:

  • 517 murders, a 3.8 percent increase
  • 1,939 rapes, an 11.6 percent increase
  • 8,825 robberies, a 4.9 percent increase
  • 22,826 aggravated assaults, a 4.9 percent increase

A look at total murders in North Carolina
Credit N.C. Attorney General
Total murders in North Carolina since the early 1900s.

Lori Brown, a professor of criminology at Meredith College in Raleigh, pointed to the availability of firearms as a main reason for higher murder rates.

"Homicide usually means a gun too near and a hospital too far away," she said, adding that whatever the murder trend lines are in North Carolina or the nation as a whole, the homicide rate here is significantly higher than in other developed countries.

A look at total rapes in North Carolina
Credit N.C. Attorney General
Total rapes in North Carolina since the early 1900s.

"In general, Americans have a very high murder rate as compared to other countries and as we battle out the issue of access to assault weapons and permits for concealed weapons, we all become less safe," she said. "It takes way more effort to stab someone to death or to beat them to death. You have time to stop. A gun takes a second, and often takes away the chance to change your mind. Keep in mind that even police officers are uneasy with the number of weapons that people now possess and this may be why some are more aggressive with people when they enter homes or stop their cars."

While the violent crime rate showed a concerning increase, the 2015 FBI report contained some positive news.

Both in North Carolina and across the nation, property crimes, which include burglary, larceny and motor vehicle theft, declined. Brown credited technology advances with this drop.

"It is almost impossible to get away any more if you do something illegal," she said. "Your cell phone is a tracker, many businesses have cameras, computers track purchases."

In 2015, North Carolina had a property crime rate of 2,750 per 100,000 population, a 4.2 percent decline from 2014.

A look at total assaults in North Carolina
Credit N.C. Attorney General
Total assaults in North Carolina since the early 1900s.

Jason deBruyn is the WUNC health reporter, a beat he took in 2020. He has been in the WUNC newsroom since 2016.
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