Advancements in technology help counties reduce crime rates

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 19, 2015

By Shavonne Walker

The technology only dreamed of decades ago is the norm in the way companies do business and none more so than in law enforcement. Technology is changing the way law enforcement officers conduct their work, which in turn helps reduce crime.

Agencies who say they’ve been able to decrease crime in their communities say they’ve been able to do so with the help of technology and specialized investigations as well as as a focus on the community policing of yesteryear.

The Salisbury Post looked at 10 counties — Cabarrus, Davidson, Davie, Iredell, Orange, Randolph, Robeson, Rowan, Stanly and Wayne — to review trends in property and violent crimes.

Each law enforcement agency provides data to the N.C. Department of Justice for violent crimes, which include murder, rape, robbery and assault, while property crimes are also collected and include burglaries or break-ins, larcenies, arson and motor vehicle thefts.

In all of the counties, the overall crime rates have decreased over a five-year period. However, throughout that same time frame, there have been fluctuations in property and violent crime rates from year to year.

The specific areas of focus were targeted to Rowan, Cabarrus and Iredell counties for their proximity to each other. Cabarrus, Rowan and Iredell had the highest percentage of reduction in violent crime rates over five years with 46.8 percent, 30.1 percent and 36 percent, respectively.

Rowan saw a 20.3 percent decrease in its property crimes rate from 2008 to 2013. Cabarrus had a relatively strong decrease of 40.1 percent for property crimes rate over five years. While Iredell had a 17.1 percent decrease in five years for its property crime rate.


Rowan Sheriff Kevin Auten believes one way his agency has been able to reduce crime in this county is through visibility. He said being more visible will deter crime.

“Our goal is to be proactive law enforcement and with the addition of officers placed in the patrol division, we have become more visible on the street,” Auten said.

Having more officers on the road allows the sheriff’s office a chance to come in contact with more potential suspects before crimes are committed, he said.

Another way Auten believes the department has reduced crime in the last five years is through school and community-oriented programs such as the Gang Resistance Education And Training (G.R.E.A.T.), the sheriff’s citizens academy and the Community Watch, which “allows us to maintain an open relationship with citizens and helps educate them on crime prevention.

“With the recovery of the 2008 recession, citizens have been provided with more opportunity for employment which lessens criminal behavior,” Auten said.

He said technology is another way the sheriff’s office has been able to combat crime. Technology has advanced tremendously over the last 20 years, he said.

Some of the tools deputies have that aid them in fighting crime include in-car cameras and social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter that the agency uses to gather evidence and personal information. Computer technology has also advanced, Auten said.

Officers use a remote data management system that allows them to store and retrieve large amounts of data for office use and mobile data terminals, a laptop which each deputy has in his or her patrol vehicle. Information is essentially at their fingertips and provides quicker ways of obtaining information about a suspect.

“Computer devices are involved in all areas of crime now,” Auten said.

Officers can examine these computer and other electronic devices and retrieve evidence that the agency may have missed in the past or had to wait a year to get back from the crime lab.

“Other databases allow for faster searches for stolen property and suspect connections. Improved training in different areas also brings investigations together better,” he said.

The Rowan County Sheriff’s Office has also been able to take advantage of grants and asset forfeiture from drug seizures that have helped them obtain much needed equipment and training. However, there are some tools the agency does not have that Auten has said he’s been weighing the pros and cons of — body-worn cameras.

“This issue is very important to officers and citizens,” he said, but there are legalities to officers using body cameras that need to be worked out.

There are a couple of examples that come to mind, Auten explained, including the length of retention of those videos and of those tapes, what is considered public record.

The sheriff said he’d also like to get a latent fingerprint system in place for search and comparison of latent prints collected from a crime scene.

He said a fingerprint system would let the sheriff’s office to be more sufficient and efficient.


Iredell Sheriff Darren Campbell said much of the structure of the agency was established by the previous administration and is divided into specialized units, but since being elected last year he has implemented a move toward more community policing.
He attributes the decrease in violent and property crimes to the department structure and the community policing.
The specialized units include the agency’s special victim’s unit that investigates all crimes of domestic violence, sexual assault, child physical abuse, sexual abuse and neglect. Other specialized units include the vice/narcotics unit, homicide unit, hybrid investigation unit, lake enforcement unit and the crime lab.

Campbell said some things he’s implemented have been to have more than one set of eyes on a particular investigation, whether it’s a misdemeanor or a felony crime. A patrol deputy takes a report and it’s passed onto a supervisor and eventually an investigator.

Information is shared not only with other agencies, but internally in two ways, via a computer monitor at the sheriff’s office and an inner-office electronic criminal intelligence bulletin. The computer monitor shows on a regular basis the latest cases the agency is working on so officers coming in from patrol or a day off can see what’s been happening. Also the criminal intelligence bulletin does the same as the computer monitor and reaches every officer, supervisor and investigator within each department.

Campbell created a hybrid investigation unit where investigators who traditionally worked cases separately have now combined forces. The narcotics and criminal investigations units both look into break-ins and drug cases because as Campbell said, many of those offenses overlap because some people are stealing to support narcotics habits.

All officers also visit an elementary school regularly where there are no school resource officers so they can get to know the students, staff and the landscape of the school property in the event there is a crisis situation.

Since January officers have been going back to what officers used to do and that’s get out and talk with neighbors and be seen in the schools.

Campbell has encouraged his officers to “stop and build relationships with the schools and if something happens, you know the school, the teachers and students,” he said.
It’s as simple as “friends talk to friends,” he said as a motto of getting officers in the community.

The Iredell County Sheriff’s Office crime lab was established in 2007 for marijuana analysis and latent fingerprints, and a year later drug chemistry was added. In 2013, the lab added blood alcohol testing to its services. The lab not only serves Iredell, but Rowan, Davidson and Davie counties, as well as other areas covering more than 30 agencies.

Lab Director Misty Icard said the largest need for outside agencies is drug chemistry and toxicology — both blood alcohol content and blood drug testing as well as DNA.

In 2014,  the lab received 1,882 cases and of those 412 or 22 percent were from agencies inside Iredell County, leaving 1,470 of them from other agencies.

“Since the laboratory can provide examinations with minimal delay, the results can be used while an investigation is ongoing and oftentimes provide case direction,” Icard said.

She said results of the various exams like fingerprints can eliminate or confirm a person as a suspect, quickly identify a suspect in an investigation and can eliminate man hours and lost time.

“In criminal investigations, the sooner we receive information, the better. The State Bureau of Investigations, although qualified, has delays in examinations that leaves agencies waiting years for results,” she said.


Cabarrus Sheriff Brad Riley said the agency has been very forward thinking for years about acquiring specialty units that particularly match their needs.

The sheriff’s office has an aggressive investigative Community Policing Division that investigates all property crimes, Riley said, and their “effort and direct attention to those daily cases is the biggest impact on property crimes, and they are a specialty unit as well. We also have some detectives that have played big roles in property crimes.”

“I believe one of the biggest impacts of reduction of violent crimes is attributed to our Project Safe Neighborhoods initiative, where we monitor and target violent offenders and notify them of federal prosecution. Again, we also have a very experienced and talented Detectives Division that really presses hard to resolve violent crimes,” Riley said.
Riley said his agency also offers mutual aid assistance to any agency that needs it. The bomb squad, which has been recognized as top notch throughout the state and nation, gets requests for assistance more often than the agency’s other units.

“Bomb squads are strategically spread out throughout the state, therefore not every jurisdiction is fortunate to even equip a team if they wanted to. So, we gladly assist other close jurisdictions,” Riley said.

Riley said he’s very proud of law enforcement partnerships throughout the county.

“We communicate often and very well to keep pressure on reducing and preventing crime. Our philosophy mirrors: ‘we can’t always be everywhere all the time, but by partnering with our staffs and resources, we are much wider spread with our force multiplier.’ Very seldom do you see a serious crime call out in the county or either city, where multiple agencies are not working it tightly together,” he said.

Riley said his agency is “richly blessed to have great agencies like Concord Police, Kannapolis Police, N.C. Highway Patrol, N.C. Wildlife, and the State Bureau of Investigation closely partnering with us,” Riley said.
He added that the Cabarrus County Sheriff’s Office doesn’t spend a lot of time responding to assistance out of the county, but the bomb squad does annually get several requests to assist with surrounding county’s like Rowan, Stanly and Union.