South Charlotte police see mixed bag in 2012 crime stats

While the number of vehicle break-ins dropped in parts of south Charlotte in 2012, police in the Cotswold area are dealing with drivers who just don’t seem to care to lock up.

Lt. Fred Newell, who covers the SouthPark and Cotswold area for the Providence Division of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, said as much as 80 percent of the vehicles broken into during the last four months in Cotswold have been unlocked, with many drivers saying they left the vehicles unlocked on purpose assumingly to avoid damage from break-ins. The phenomenon is leaving Newell and his officers trying to teach area residents that simply locking their vehicles, not to mention hiding things from plain sight, could stop people from seeing their laptops, purses and sometimes even guns stolen out of their driveways.

“We’ve literally been going door to door through Cotswold … talking to people and trying to remind them to lock their cars,” Newell said. “It’s reached an all-time high with people leaving their cars unsecure. I’ve never seen it at the levels it has been.”

Newell is hoping area residents step up and become leaders of community watch groups and efforts to get neighbors informed. Newell said residents need to realize most of these break-ins are just people walking though neighborhoods pulling on door handles. Thieves don’t want to break a vehicle window if they can help it, Newell said, because the sound will draw unwanted attention.

It’s a different situation in neighborhoods south of Fairview Road, where police saw vehicle break-in numbers tick downward. South Division (south of Fairview and including Ballantyne) saw 589 vehicle break-ins in 2012 compared to 597 in 2011.

Capt. Jim Wilson said it’s a number he’s proud of, but still a number he’d like to see lower.

“When you look at where we were five years ago, it’s a tremendous amount of work,” Wilson said. His division has seen decreases each year, and came in second this year for the biggest decrease in crime. “We’re really trying to focus on our community partnerships and working with different neighborhoods to get involved.”

Around 90 percent of the crime in South Division – 1,760 crimes total – were property crimes like vehicle and home break-ins and theft. Property crimes dropped from 1,678 in 2011 to 1,643 in 2012, according to police. In comparison, there were 1,946 property crimes in South Division in 2010 and 2,339 in 2009.

The majority of south Charlotte’s 2012’s property crimes were vehicle break-ins, at 589 cases. That’s down from the 597 in 2011, 633 in 2010 and 954 in 2009. Police credit the continued drop to a better partnership with area residents.

“That’s where we focus our main efforts,” Wilson said regarding stopping vehicle break-ins. “Anytime we can get someone to take their valuables out of their vehicles and lock their vehicles, that gets extra eyes and ears out on the street.”

The division has held competitions pitting neighborhoods and schools against each other to see which can have the least amount of break-ins, giving the winners prizes. The effort has resulted in more residents taking crime prevention measures while also creating a stronger bond between officer and citizen.

“We stress our community relationships and get out into individual communities where people have vested interests … so they are aware of what we can do for them.”

Police also are getting better at reading crime trends. Wilson’s leaders get together once a week to look over numbers and discuss tips with one another, while the division also must make a monthly report to Chief Rodney Monroe on recent crime trends and what the division is working on.

“We take in ideas from everywhere,” Wilson said. “We never want to rest on our laurels.”

Violent crime accounted for 117 crimes in South Division. Violent crime was up across the city for 2012, though Wilson contributes most of that violent crime in South Division to incidents where the suspect and victim knew each other, instead of random acts of violence. Violent crime as a whole dropped in South Division, though robberies increased by six incidents, to 32.

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