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Starting a conversation about crime

The raw crime numbers reported in Sunday’s Salisbury Post go part of the way toward putting the city’s crime in perspective. The number of violent crimes reported in a five-year period was consistently higher in Salisbury than in the cities surrounding it — Albemarle, Lexington, Kannapolis, Concord — even though some have considerably larger populations. Concord has more than 79,000 residents, compared to Salisbury’s 33,663, for example.

That’s not the whole picture, but it’s enough to know this community needs to have a conversation about crime.

First, there’s good news. The country has become much safer over the past two decades. Between 1991 and 2013, the U.S. violent crime rate fell by nearly 52 percent, and Salisbury has been part of that trend. The early 1990s were a horribly violent time. The situation is much better now.

Still, how can we get a more accurate picture of local crime and the best ways to fight it? Rates would tell us more than raw numbers. So would studying other statistics, such as poverty, levels of education and median household incomes. The picture would be more complete if county statistics were included as well. Salisbury may be more comparable to Goldsboro, Rocky Mount or Burlington than to Concord or Kannapolis.

It would be helpful to know where crime is concentrated in the city. In January 2014, Police Chief Rory Collins said the crime rate in Salisbury had fallen by 8.6 percent in the previous five years, while serious crime in the West End jumped more than 12 percent. He restructured his department in response. How has that panned out?

There’s always the need for more data — in this case, a lot more data. But you don’t need much more to recognize that there’s a problem.

Just as education does not rest solely on the superintendent’s shoulders, public safety is not the responsibility of only the police chief. Community problems call for community solutions. The FBI says factors that affect crime rates include population density, youth concentration, transience, economic conditions, cultural factors, family conditions, citizens’ attitudes and crime reporting practices. The biggest predictor of committing a criminal act, according to the experts,  is being young, male, and relatively low-skilled. So education is a crucial factor, too.

With the community united and pushing for improvement, there’s no better time for Salisbury residents and leaders to acknowledge crime and unite to fight it. It’s better to  face this problem head-on than head-in-the-sand.

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