Salisbury Police chief says violent crime ‘somewhat steady’ in previous decade despite 2021 spike

Published 12:10 am Sunday, January 23, 2022

By Natalie Anderson
natalie.anderson@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — While 2021 saw a bump in violent crimes compared to historically low rates in 2019 and 2020, Police Chief Jerry Stokes says the rate has remained somewhat steady over the last decade.

Overall, Stokes reports that crime in general increased by 10% in 2021 compared to 2020. Last year, the total amount of violent crime increased 22% compared to 2020. That includes a 4% increase in reports of shots fired — with 473 reported in 2021 and 454 in 2020 — as well as an 84% increase in homicides — with 11 reported in 2021 and six reported in 2020.

Reported rape crimes increased from eight in 2020 to 10 reported in 2021. Additionally, 2021 saw a 28% increase in aggravated assaults, which includes assault with deadly weapons such as guns and shootings into occupied dwellings.

Though property crime has been on a steady decline since 2011, the overall rate of property crime increased by 8% in 2021 compared to 2020.

There was a 4% decrease in overall robbery, but the number of commercial robberies increased by 50%. Additionally, while burglaries decreased by 2%, residential burglaries increased by 22%. Larcenies also increased by 14% with 828 reports in 2021. Arson decreased by 25%, with only six reports in 2021.

Stokes said 2011 was the worst year on record for crime in Salisbury, primarily attributed to a high property crime rate. Data show violent crime has remained relatively steady since then, with the highest number of violent crimes reported in 2016.

By contrast, violent crime was at its lowest in 2019, which is also the second-best year for property crimes. Those improvements carried over to 2020, which was the second-best year for violent crimes and the best year for property crime, resulting in the lowest crime rate year overall, Stokes said.

“Unfortunately, the amount of violent crime is somewhat steady. Yes, there are highs, 2016, and lows, 2019, but if you look at how the numbers trend, it is a somewhat steady number,” Stokes told the Post. “Of course, as you see in 2021, things bumped up a bit, mostly in violent/gun crime. I’ve said this a couple of times, that’s a nationwide trend, but that really doesn’t make it OK for Salisbury.”

Stokes said some of the “crime hot spots” include portions of the West End near Brenner Crossing, Zion Hills Apartments and Livingstone College because of the number of violent crimes in those areas. Another hot spot is near Innes Street Marketplace, where a lot of commercial robberies take place. Robberies also are reported frequently at apartment complexes off of Statesville Boulevard.

The police department’s average response time was slightly impacted by the rise in overall crime in 2021. Stokes reported an average response time of 5 minutes and 37 seconds for top-priority calls, which includes burglaries, shots fired, domestic assaults, home invasions and bomb threats. That’s an increase of 25.3% compared to 2019, which had an average response time of 4 minutes and 29 seconds for such calls.

Priority No. 3 calls, the next tier for the department’s calls for service, include reports of abductions, robberies, loud parties and verbal disturbances. Officers improved their response time to these calls in 2021, with an average of 19 minutes and 48 seconds compared to 20 minutes in 2019.

Priority No. 5 calls, Stokes said, represent reports of drug offenses, prostitution, phone threats and motor vehicle thefts. Those calls saw a 25.7% increase, with an average response time of 22 minutes compared to 17 minutes and 38 seconds in 2019.

Stokes said he compared the 2021 response times to 2019, which represents a more normal response level, and excluded 2020 because of the pandemic. To limit in-person interactions, some calls, such as those in priority No. 5, were handled over the phone rather than from an officer visiting victims directly, he added.

Salisbury Police also respond to calls of overdoses. Stokes said officers investigated 22 deaths among the 182 total overdoses in 2021. The department works to refer those who overdose to the county’s Post-Overdose Response Team, or PORT, which then helps connect those individuals with resources for treatment and services. April saw the highest number of overdoses last year, 21.

Overall, 2021 has a violent crime rate of 639, a homicide rate of 31 and a property crime rate of 3,742. All rates are rounded to the nearest whole number. Such rates are calculated by dividing the number of reported crimes by the total population and then multiplying that number by 100,000. In 2016, when there were approximately 1,585 fewer residents in Salisbury, those rates were 716 for violent crime, 29.5 for homicide and 4,338 for property crime.

During Tuesday’s City Council meeting, councilman Harry McLaughlin Jr., who owns McLaughlin’s Grocery in the West End, asked Stokes about gang activity.

Stokes reported a rise in gang affiliation among juveniles. He said efforts in recent years to target gang leaders, arrest and charge them has resulted in a “a vacuum” of juveniles stepping up and entering the gang structure. Additionally, a majority of gun thefts from motor vehicles have been among youth. Stokes said he’s been working with the city’s communications department to educate the public about proper storage of guns to limit access for juveniles.

Stokes also said the average age of gang involvement is younger than 30 years old.

“I think the lesson for Salisbury is we have some work to do,” Stokes told the Post. “To address violent crime will require some efforts to address the underlying causes and deterrence from being involved in those underlying causes. As a community, we have to have collaboration between all of us in the community — community leaders, parents, schools, organizations, etc. to stem the increased violent crime issue. As I’ve mentioned often, we can’t arrest our way out of the underlying social issues that are at the root of crime.”

Stokes also told the Post the department is currently looking at its Project Safe Neighborhoods program, a collaboration with the sheriff’s office and District Attorney’s Office, and determining how it can be improved and adjusted to better meet the needs in Salisbury. He added that the current initiative with Cease Fire, a collaboration with the Salisbury-Rowan chapter of NAACP, “can be an integral part of violent crime reduction.”

Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246.

About Natalie Anderson

Natalie Anderson covers the city of Salisbury, politics and more for the Salisbury Post. She joined the staff in January 2020 after graduating from Louisiana State University, where she was editor of The Reveille newspaper. Email her at natalie.anderson@salisburypost.com or call her at 704-797-4246.

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