Monthly Archives: May 2015

Digging Deeper for the Balance of Fear and Crime

The topic of fear and crime has generated significant interest over the years and research has not come to any one single conclusion on what actually is the fear of crime. The fact that more people experience the fear of crime than victimization is a debatable topic. Maybe we can at least accept, to some degree, that when we separate fear and crime, fear can be summarized as an unpleasant emotion and/or perception derived from experiences felt, seen and/or heard about. Although the existence of fear is understandable yet unfortunate, fear is real and manifests itself in our wide-ranging lifestyles. These are often illustrated in numerous ways, such as how we live.  Whether it is the number of locks we have on our doors or the conservatisms’ of our spending habits to assure a “nest egg” is in place, we all prepare for and cope with our fears.

When we speak of crime, we should relate it to acts that violate written laws and ordinances intended to govern our actions as a people. Naturally, we combine crime with victimization and with the idea of being a victim of crime originates personalization that is linked to fear.  No one wants to be a victim. Therefore, we act in ways to minimize, if not eliminate, ourselves from becoming a victim.  Fear, when linked to crime, can often determine the way we live our lives. Unfortunately, too often our fear of being victimized by a crime is greater than the actual occurrence of crime in our neighborhoods. So lets give ourselves a bit of relief by saying that the feeling of fear is not our fault.

The experiences of all things good and bad are placed before us in abundance by various information outlets.  As Chief of the Gaston County Police, one aspect of my responsibilities is to provide you, through various forms of communication, some balance between fear of crime, the frequency of its occurrence and our ability to apprehend offenders who commit those crimes.  I would suggest that doing so reassures you that your Gaston County Police Department is completely engaged in the battle of reducing crime and victimization in Gaston County.  We work with diligence to solve criminal acts and reduce victimization so that it is not at the top of your concerns.

In fairness and respect for all law enforcement officials within Gaston County, when referring to crime and law enforcement efforts, the Gaston County Police Department and its citizens, the following statistics only represent the jurisdiction(s) for which your county police department is responsible.      If we took a comparative glimpse at some crime statistics that include only those North Carolina counties that boarder Gaston County with a broader scope of how we rank at the state level (North Carolina), U.S. southern states level and the United States as a whole, here is what we would find:

Agency Name Violent Crimes per 10,000 persons Violent Crime Clearance Rates Property Crime per 10,000 persons Property Crime Clearance Rates
Gaston Co. Police Dept. 24.49 88.14 130.22 44.94%
Cleveland Co. Sheriff’s Office 2.86 77.78 170.09 27.50%
Lincoln Co. Sheriff’s Office 10.43 84.72 174.14 25.46%
Char-Meck Police Dept. 63.12 46.00 378.85 20.49%
State of N.C. 33.95 58.02 316.64 27.74%
U.S. Southern States 41.61 48.90 312.11 21.00%
United States 36.79 48.10 273.07 19.70%

Data for other agencies and areas is from 2013 State reporting and available at:  http://crimereporting.ncdoj.gov/ and  http://www.fbi.gov/stats-services/crimestats

These statistics concerning crime and clearance rates give a fair view of how jurisdictions served by the Gaston County Police look from a comparative perspective. We could surmise by those statistics that we are doing well in the battle against crime and victimization in Gaston County.  However, it’s not enough.  Speaking as Chief, and for the members of the County Police Department, we are dedicated to analyzing and adopting practices that further reduce crime and the fear of crime from Gaston County.

It is fair to say that the frequency and types of crime that occur are predicated on many opportunistic factors to include geography, population and to some degree, the efficacy of a police departments and apathy or attentiveness of its citizens they serve.  Although the complete absence of fear and crime is not a reality, there are still fundamental ways we can dig deeper at moving forward together in an effort to reduce crime and the fear that it imposes.   I like to use the acronym T.A.L.K.             

Tell police what’s going on in your neighborhood                                                                              Attend community watch meetings                                                                                                 Listen to all sides before passing judgment                                                                                      Know your neighbors and their habits

The value of this acronym is that it encourages communication with both neighbors and police which arms both of us (police and citizens) with information and opportunities to impact the potential for crime in our neighborhoods.  As Chief of Police, I encourage you to TALK more.

James Buie                                                                                                                                       Chief, Gaston County Police

We Owe This to Our Youth

Her name was Lucy.  She was a petite, fragile looking, seven-year-old with large, questioning eyes.  When she spoke, which was rare, it was in a tiny high-pitched voice that seemed better suited to a cartoon mouse.   She didn’t really socialize with the others, but she was always kind, willing to share, and would occasionally grace us with a dazzling smile.   She spent the majority of our time together doodling and singing quietly to herself, oblivious to the world around her.  One afternoon, at the end of a long week, I put on music and announced to the class that we would be having a dance-off.   After a few contestants, Lucy shyly raised her hand to take a turn.  I could never have predicted what was about to happen.  As she took the floor, she suddenly broke into “the robot” followed by a sequence of break dance moves that hadn’t been popular for close to 20 years.  The class erupted into cheers and delighted laughter.  As she concluded her performance, by executing a seated spin on the floor, I thought, “This child is special.”

And she was special.  She is special … wherever she may be.  ALL of the students in my first grade class were special.   Teaching solidified the belief on which my current work in public health is rooted:  ALL children are special and ALL children deserve to be nurtured in a safe, supportive home with parents who can properly care for them and make them a genuine priority in their lives.

So how do we ensure that this happens?  First, we must give people the resources they need to plan when they have children.  The most basic of these resources is accurate information about reproductive anatomy, conception, contraception (including abstinence), and how to access health services.  Generally speaking, a child born of a planned pregnancy has the odds stacked in their favor from the very beginning.

The decision of when to have a child is, of course, very personal.  Most everyone can agree, however, that parenting is best delayed until adulthood.  Although I have met some outstanding teen parents in Gaston County, most are quick to explain why delaying pregnancy is important.  They know firsthand how becoming a parent changed their schedules, their sleep, their priorities, their friends, their family, and even their life goals.  I see the obstacles that teen parents face, and I also know the challenges their children face: they are much more likely to experience poverty, abuse, neglect, school failure, chronic health problems, and incarceration than children born to older parents.  Sadly, statistics also show that teen pregnancy is cyclical – daughters of teen mothers are three times more likely to become teen parents themselves.

Gaston County has seen great declines in teen pregnancy over the past several years thanks, in large part, to those involved in the Gaston Youth Connected initiative.  Young people in our community are getting the information they need to make smart decisions about their relationships, their bodies, and ultimately, their lives.  We must ensure that this continues.  We owe this to our youth.  We also owe the future children of Gaston County the opportunity to be born into circumstances that provide them with the best possible chance of success … unlike Lucy.

See, what the rest of my class didn’t know about Lucy was that she was found, at approximately 3 days of age, abandoned under a bridge.  I don’t know much about Lucy’s mother –if she was a teen or not – but I do know two things about her:  1) for some reason, she was not ready to be a parent and 2) she had an incredible daughter, against whom the odds were stacked.

By Carrie Meier

Teen Pregnancy Prevention Supervisor

Gaston County Department of Health & Human Services

May is Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month

The Most Common Path to Jail

There are a multitude of factors leading to crime: substance abuse, peer pressure, mental illness, opportunity, poverty, environment, genetics, illiteracy, gang affiliation, and a host of others. Yet, my 41 years as a lawyer and judge in our state’s criminal courts have convinced me that there is something that is present in almost every case where someone breaks the law: a weak set of moral values. The most common path to jail involves an individual who does not possess those morals our society upholds: personal responsibility, respect for others, accountability, and the overall good of the community. The person whose driving forces are self-gratification, self-centeredness, and “the ends justify the means” mentality, is more likely than anyone else to break the law and go to prison than anyone else.

A drug addict robs a convenience store because his craving for the next fix outweighs any concern for the owner’s rights. The teenager wanting to fit in, bows to the dictates of “the wrong crowd” because he does not have the backbone to stand up to the mob when they break into a home. The swindler who scams a trusting senior citizens to make easy money cares nothing for those who sweated and saved their whole lives to acquire something to live on in their twilight years. The man who kills a stranger for quick cash, a gang initiation, or on an impulsive whim has not thought once, let alone twice, about the wake of untold pain, grief, and shattered lives his senseless act will cause. In every case, someone with a strong code of morality would not yield to such temptations. Indeed, there are individuals who are substance abusers and suffer various mental illnesses, who daily honor the law because they have the inner strength and courage to refrain from committing a crime. Without a set of moral values, is it any wonder that two-thirds of those who get out of prison are soon re-incarcerated?

The average annual cost of keeping someone in prison totaling $29,160. We cannot imprison every criminal forever or we will go broke. We have to find ways to indoctrinate morality into those who would break our laws. Two proven programs to help are Cognitive Behavior Intervention (CBI), which teaches judgment making skills, and Moral Recognition Therapy (MRI), which teaches a set of morals upon which to make these judgments. But the courts cannot do this alone, if we are to salvage these people and keep them from harming someone else. We all have to get involved. We need those in our schools, churches, civic organizations, and businesses to help us teach people about proper values. Yes, they should have been taught this at home, but they weren’t. Unless we help them learn it, we may be their next victim. Every at-risk criminal offender should have some type of network of support, the kind Alcoholics Anonymous offers its participants.

It is good to see the preacher in court with the defendant, but I would rather see four or five church members there supporting her. I am glad Mama is in court with her son I am sentencing. I would rather see his employer present. When I see someone’s boss sit in court for hours, losing a day’s pay to ask for a second chance for the defendant, this tells me the defendant has a real support resource. I know his or her boss will scrutinize and support his efforts to lead a wholesome life.

Each of us knows someone at risk, who is in need of encouragement, moral support, and friendship. If not, we can find them in countless ways. Most of us can do something, from helping in a homeless shelter to volunteering in a prison ministry. Maybe the best place to help is to try to proactively deal with the problem before a young person breaks the law, by mentoring an at risk student in our school system, volunteering with a youth program. By offering some kind of help to show offenders what a life with moral values looks like, we are all in a position to help narrow, and hopefully close, the most common path to jail.

Jesse B. Caldwell, III

Senior Resident Superior Court Judge

Judicial District 27A