South Carolina suffered more violent crime than any other state last year, matching its dismal performance in the FBI's annual report for the second year in a row.
As in 2006, only the District of Columbia fared worse in the Bureau's Crime in the United States report released Monday. In 2007, violent crime in the Palmetto State increased 5 percent to 34,746 reported incidents, or 788 per 100,000 people. That's compared with 33,078 in 2006.
The national rate in 2007 was 467 crimes per 100,000 people.
As for property crimes, which increased 2.7 percent, the state trailed only Arizona and D.C.
Charleston County Sheriff Al Cannon has grown accustomed to seeing the state do poorly in crime rates and other indicators of social well-being. He thinks a shortage of criminal justice funding is to blame, as well as the failure of institutions such as the church, family and schools.
"If you look at the number of police officers killed in the line of duty, the South has led in that area as well," Cannon said. "I'm not sure I know why that is. It's probably a combination of factors."
The FBI's violent crime figures combine figures for murder, non-negligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery and aggravated assault.
The number of killings in South Carolina was high but not among the top states. It ranked fourth, behind Louisiana, Maryland, Alabama and New Mexico. The number of slayings here dropped slightly to 352 from 359 in 2006, giving the state a rate of eight per 100,000 people.
The District of Columbia's total was far higher than any state, with 181 slayings last year, or almost 31 for every 100,000 of the capital's inhabitants.
In the Lowcountry, North Charleston was the agency with the most homicides, with 26, followed by the city of Charleston with 15.
The Palmetto State ranked near the middle in robberies, and near the bottom of the top quarter for forcible rapes.
What pushed South Carolina higher than other states was the number of aggravated assaults, which includes everything from a non-fatal shooting to a beating. Its total of 597 per 100,000 people last year was an increase of 2.9 percent over the year before, the highest anywhere outside Washington, D.C.
While the FBI statistics can be useful indicators, they should be viewed with skepticism, said Jeff Rojek, assistant professor at the University of South Carolina's Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice.
"It's not that they're of no value," Rojek said, "but just understand that it has flaws."
The FBI cautions against using the tables for exact comparisons of different communities.
The standards for reporting offenses varies from department to department, Rojek said. Also, some crimes, such as homicides, are widely reported. Others, such as robberies, aren't reported as often, especially if the victim has reasons to steer clear of the law.
Though vehicle thefts were lower in South Carolina than in many Western states, burglaries were higher than in any states apart from North Carolina, Arkansas and Louisiana. South Carolina, with 188,282 thefts reported in 2007, trailed only Hawaii.
Joel Sawyer, press secretary for Gov. Mark Sanford, said the report indicates that funding for the state's criminal justice system needs attention.
Last month, South Carolina's Budget and Control Board ordered 3 percent across-the-board cuts on already squeezed state agencies, such as Highway Patrol, Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services and the Department of Corrections.
The governor favors targeted cuts.
"It's a very unfortunate reminder that we need to do a better job at the state level, prioritizing our law-enforcement needs," Sawyer said.
Reach Noah Haglund at 937-5550 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
S.C. most violent state; Palmetto State surpassed only by Washington, D.C., published 09/25/07
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