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Charlotte, N.C., Reports Crime on The Increase

July 13--After three years of double-digit crime drops and historic lows, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police announced on Thursday the city's first period of sustained crime increases under Chief Rodney Monroe.

So far this year, homicides increased nearly 40 percent, a jump from 18 to 25, when compared with the same period last year. Robberies were up 17 percent, and aggravated assaults were up nearly 14 percent.

It's new territory for the department under this chief. After Monroe, 55, took over the department in 2009, crime dropped so much and so fast that one community group asked to look at the department's crime numbers to see if they checked out.

And the crime numbers kept going down. In 2010 and 2011, the department announced that the crime rate had fallen to the lowest number since it started keeping uniform records in the 1970s.

Crime across the state and the country declined during the same period, but the department's crime drops outpaced even those.

"You look at the degree of those declines and you'll see that we've pretty much led the way," said Deputy Chief Kerr Putney. "Now, we're battling our own success."

At Thursday's press conference, the department highlighted its three-year average, which Putney said provides a better view of crime trends in Charlotte. Over that period, most crimes declined, though aggravated assaults were up more than 12 percent.

Julie Eiselt, one of the founding members of Neighbors for a Safer Charlotte, said she wasn't worried about the uptick, but thinks Charlotteans should still feel empowered to ask police why crime is going up.

She said police and the district attorney have implemented new strategies that will keep crime down over time.

"You can't expect that it will always go in the same direction," she said.

Monroe's police department has brought crime lower than his predecessor's. Before 2009, the department focused on geographic areas -- using data to figure out where crime was happening, then flooding those hot spots with police officers.

Monroe's approach focuses more on identifying the criminal element of a community and locking them up, or stopping them before they can commit a crime.

But several questions at the press conference focused on whether the city was seeing the limits of what Monroe's strategy could do.

"I made the prediction last year that we'd bottomed out a year ago," Putney said, "but I was wrong then. ... I wish I could proclaim there would be no more crime. However, we've got to keep fighting."

Crime in N.C. continues fall

The announcement by CMPD came just hours after the North Carolina attorney general announced that crime in the state had dropped for the third straight year.

The decrease marks a 34-year low in the state, and continues a nearly two-decade period of declining crime.

"When we invest wisely in law enforcement, the result is safer communities," Attorney General Roy Cooper said. "It takes well-trained law enforcement using the latest technology to keep our crime rates low, and we need to make sure they have the tools needed to do the job."

Still, Cooper made the same warning he did last year, saying budget cuts to law enforcement agencies could result in more crime.

The state numbers:

The overall rate of index crime per 100,000 persons in North Carolina in 2011 decreased by 0.9 percent compared to 2010. The rate of violent crime per 100,000 North Carolinians dropped 5.2 percent, according to reports submitted to the State Bureau of Investigation from state law enforcement agencies.

Homicides increased 5.9 percent.

Among violent crimes, rapes declined 2.8 percent; robberies dropped 4.1 percent; aggravated assaults were down 6 percent.

Juvenile arrests for all crimes dropped 7 percent, while adult arrests for all crimes fell 3 percent.

Wootson: 704-358-5046; Twitter: @CleveWootson

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