A push to forge community partnerships and attack lawlessness at its roots helped Charleston buck a national trend and post substantial declines in violent crime and property offenses last year, according to FBI statistics released Monday.
Charleston saw a 26 percent drop in violent crime in 2012, despite having one more killing than in the previous year. Driving the decline were noticeably fewer rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults than in 2011, the FBI numbers show.
The total number of property crimes such as burglaries and car thefts in the city also dropped, by 10 percent, during the same time period.
“We are ecstatic,” Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen said. “I think a core reason we are having this success is that the officers are really working hard to take ownership of the areas in which they are working.”
South Carolina saw violent crime dip by 5 percent last year, while it inched up nearly a percentage point for the nation as a whole, the FBI reported. Property crimes decreased about 1 percent nationally, marking the 10th straight year of declines for these offenses, collectively, the FBI reported. South Carolina was down 1.5 percent in this category.
A number of area communities held the line on crime last year or saw modest fluctuations. Summerville and Mount Pleasant, for example, remained almost static in their numbers.
Others were not as lucky.
After several successful years of driving violent crime down, North Charleston saw a 13 percent bump in its numbers last year, with more murders, rapes, robberies and assaults than the previous year, the FBI report showed.
Property crimes in the city rose 3 percent, though North Charleston saw far fewer burglaries last year. Driving the increases were hikes in larcenies and motor-vehicle thefts, the FBI report stated.
North Charleston Police Chief Eddie Driggers, who took over the department in January, said the one-year snapshot needs to be viewed in context with the city’s overall gains on crime in recent years. Though the city recorded 737 violent crimes last year, according to the FBI, it had twice that number or more during several years between 1996 and 2007.
In 2006, North Charleston’s crime woes resulted in it being named the seventh most dangerous city in the United States in an annual ranking put out by Washington-based CQ Press. The city went after crime hard, with beefed-up crime analysis, expanded community policing and other measures, Last year, it came in at No. 125 on the most dangerous list.
Driggers’ predecessor, former Police Chief Jon Zumalt, routinely cited numbers as proof of the city’s progress. But Driggers’ said statistics tell only part of the story of what is happening in the community, and don’t always illustrate the hard work that is going on between police and citizens to improve the quality of life.
“I think we are doing everything we can to partner with the citizens to make this the safest community they could possibly live in,” Driggers said.
Charleston also credits community involvement for helping the Holy City bring its crime numbers down.
Mullen said officers have worked hard to build relationships and trust in the community that help in gathering information to solve crimes quickly, getting problem offenders off the streets before they can do more damage.
Police also have worked to collaborate with other agencies, relay information to the officers in the field in a timely manner and target hot spots and potential issues before they become chronic problems, Mullen said.
Combining a hard-charging attitude with responsiveness to community concerns “send a very clear message to the community that we really do care about what is going on out there and making things better,” Mullen said.
Charleston Mayor Joe Riley agreed, calling the latest crime numbers “just wonderful news.”
“We are just so proud of our police department, Chief Mullen and the community for its involvement,” he said. “It’s great news, and I can assure you, no one over at the police department will be resting on their laurels.”
Reach Glenn Smith at 937-5556.
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