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The Daily Tar Heel

Explanations Abound for High Crime Rates in the South

The western United States has the second highest rating, at 23 percent of total offenses.

Many Southern cities also topped lists for numbers of reported crime in all categories.

The highest ranked city in terms of property crimes in metropolitan areas was Tuscaloosa, Ala. Greenville was the fourth-highest ranked city in terms of per capita property crime rates.

Rodney Engen, professor of criminology at N.C. State University, said he thinks there is no definite cause of the South's high crime rate. He said there are many different opinions as to why the percentage is so high.

Popular explanations include the presence of a subculture of violence in the South, as well as economic factors like the strong correlation between poverty and economic inequality in crime rates.

Maj. Kevin Smeltzer of the Greenville Police Department said it is important to note the crime index depends on the amount of crimes actually reported. He said his department actively encourages victims to report crimes.

"I have trouble with comparing crime statistics from jurisdiction to jurisdiction," he said. "Things vary from area to area."

He also pointed to the difference in size among metropolitan areas as a reason for Greenville's high ranking. The city has 60,000 residents within city limits. He said there are 120,000 residents in the Pitt County metropolitan area.

Smeltzer said Greenville had eight murders last year and only one murder so far in 2001. If the current rate holds, it would mean a 700 percent decrease.

He pointed out that if the amount of murders dropped by seven in a larger city, the impact would be less noticeable.

Smeltzer also said one-third of reported crimes are larceny of less than $100, including bicycle thefts. Gas drive-offs account for 20 percent of crimes.

But Smeltzer was quick to add that there are crime problems in Greenville that need to be addressed. He said Greenville has doubled in size in the last 15 years and still feels growing pains.

But Sgt. Shari Bynum of the East Carolina Police Department reiterated that crime at the university is not as bad as the index makes it appear.

The campus is located in Greenville but had fewer reported incidents of violent and property crime than several other UNC-system schools.

She said the majority of crimes on campus are petty offenses, though many of them do not originate from students.

"Our biggest problem is larceny," Bynum said. "I expect that 75 percent of it comes from off campus. Most bikes stolen end up downtown."

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