Crime keeps Robeson County down

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Hixenbaugh, Mike. "Crime keeps Robeson County down." The Fayetteville Observer. 17 July 2010.


After Robeson County was declared No. 1 in crime among North Carolina counties for the second year in a row, leaders in the community are becoming worried over how they can help their county. Commissioner Tom Taylor said, after finding out about the crime rate for Robeson County, "We need to do something to straighten this out."

Robeson County, for 2009, reported 946 violent crimes for every 100,000 people in the county, which is double the state average. Robeson also became No. 3 in North Carolina for property crimes. Twenty murders, 18 rapes, 139 robberies, and 517 burglaries were investigated by the Robeson County Sheriff's Department in 2009. Robeson County was the only North Carolina county ranked among the top three counties for both violent and property crimes last year.

High crime rates, say county officials, are damaging the county's "economic recruiting efforts"; the high crime rates make businesses and new residents reconsider before moving to Robeson. But the county seems split as to why there are such high crime rates and what to do about them.

Lennis Watts, a retired State Trooper who ran against Ken Sealey, Robeson County's current sheriff, in the May primaries, blamed the high crime rate on Sealey's mismanagement of the office of Sheriff. Watts said, "I hope our folks in our county open their eyes to what it's going to take to reduce crime...Clearly, there are issues that plague our county, and I hope that as time moves forward ... that our law enforcement will grow and prosper in its ability to ensure safety."

Sheriff Sealey would not comment; but Randy Graham, Sealey's old campaign manager, spoke for the Sheriff. Graham stated that Sealey believes the high crime rate is a result of too few deputies in Robeson County, an issue Sealey discussed in his re-election campaign in the spring, blaming county commissioners for denying his requests for more deputies.

County Manager Ken Windley said that Robeson County had increased the numbers of deputies over the past six years (during most of which Sealy had been sheriff) and that the crime rates rose by 55 percent during that time.

Windley believes the hard economic times contributed to the rise in crime in Robeson County. Unemployment in Robeson County, which is the state's poorest and "most sprawling" county, has been near 12 percent for the past two years. Windley said, "Every time you have a down economy in any county, you're going to see a spike in crime."

But Erich Hackney, Lumberton City Councilman and a criminal investigator in the District Attorney's Office, believes there are other reasons for Robeson County's high crime rates. Hackney said that many North Carolina counties experienced declines in their economy without rises in their crime rates or with declines. Hackney said that Sheriff Sealey "needs to use the personnel he currently has more efficiently in addressing this issue. Until he initiates organized structure, administrative oversight and accountability among his staff, there is no doubt crime will continue to rise in our county."

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