Parts of southeastern North Carolina saw an increase in homicides and other violent crimes in 2020, while fewer property crimes were reported.
The Scottish town of Laurinburg, for example, recorded nine homicides last year, up from three in 2019, according to data released this week by the FBI. During that time, the city saw an estimated 39% drop in property crimes such as burglary and theft.
The Border Belt Independent looked at data from four counties – Bladen, Columbus, Robeson and Scotland. Most local data reflects state and national trends, which show an increase in violent crime, including homicide, rape and assault, and a decrease in property crime.
North Carolina saw an increase of about 11.2% in violent crime and a 6.9% decrease in property crime, according to the data.
The jump in homicides is particularly striking; North Carolina rose 29 percent.
The figure is even higher for the Robeson County Sheriff’s Office, which recorded a 59% increase in homicides – 35 last year and 22 the year before, according to the FBI. Reports of violent crime overall rose about 41.2% for the sheriff’s office.
It is impossible to determine what may have led to the increase in violent crime in 2020, said Carissa Byrne Hessick, professor at UNC School of Law in Chapel Hill.
Some experts have said stress from the coronavirus pandemic could be a factor, as many people have lost their jobs or killed loved ones. Others have pointed to the social unrest after the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man killed in custody in Minneapolis.
Laurinburg Police Chief Darwin Williams said the early release of some inmates during the pandemic may have played a role.
“They’re going out and going back to their old way of life,” Williams said. “We process them over and over again. “
Byrne Hessick said she hasn’t seen research indicating specific reasons. Compiling such data could take years and years, she said, and even then a clear picture of the causes of spikes and declines in crime might not emerge.
“People are still trying to explain what led to the sharp rise in crime in the 1960s and 1970s,” she said. “The truth is, we don’t really understand crime very well. “
This also applies to non-violent crimes, according to Byrne Hessick.
It might make sense that property crime declined last year as businesses closed and more people stayed at home during the pandemic. But there could be other factors, Byrne Hessick said, including federal stimulus payments and additional food assistance for poor families.
“If I have enough money,” she said, “I’m not going to go out and steal someone’s car.”
Williams said some of Laurinburg’s deaths designated by the FBI as homicides were justifiable shootings or self-defense, and he planned to contact the federal agency for clarification.
Laurinburg is “no different from any city in this country,” Williams said, and it has its share of gang activity and crime.
“We just have to adapt our techniques…
“We have to focus on improving people from their teenage years,” Williams said.
This story is written by Sarah Nagem, editor at Border Belt Independent. The Border Belt Independent is a non-profit internet newsroom that focuses on the issues and challenges affecting the counties of Bladen, Columbus, Robeson and Scotland.