Citizens and police take aim against increased crime in South. Region's crime rate outpaces other areas, but cause is unclear
Carrie Baucum has lived in Winston-Salem, N.C., most of her life, but only in recent years has she been driving home with her doors locked and windows up. She hates to get caught by the red light at 21st Street and Cleveland Avenue, just two blocks from her home. Residents have been robbed and approached to buy stolen goods and drugs at that intersection. Once a middle-class area, the predominantly black Liberty East neighborhood on Winston-Salem's east side has deteriorated and is dotted with abandoned buildings.
But some residents are taking steps to reduce the fear of crime there by sending a message to criminals.
Last week, a neighborhood group, Liberty East Redevelopment, erected two large anticrime signs at the blighted intersection. The signs, which were paid for by the city, include a phone number for residents to feed information about neighborhood crime anonymously to the police.
Liberty East is just one of many neighborhoods across the South searching for ways to cope with an increase in crime.
Statistics released last month by the Federal Bureau of Investigation show a 10 percent increase in criminal offenses in the South in 1986.
That rise compared with a 5.8 percent increase in the West, a 4 percent increase in the Midwest, and a 2.6 percent increase in the Northeast. Medium-size cities, those with populations of 100,000 to 1 million, show the largest increases.
Figures for the first part of 1987 show similar increases. In Winston-Salem, population 150,000, violent crime was up 16.1 percent for the first half of 1987. In Jackson, Miss., residents saw burglaries jump 32 percent for the first half of the year. In Greensboro, N.C., rapes were up 54 percent, and business robberies up 44 percent.
``It's much different from when I grew up here several years ago,'' says Mrs. Baucum's husband, Lafayette, who heads Liberty East Redevelopment. ``We didn't have these problems. And we're trying to get rid of them now.''
Police departments in cities like these are expanding efforts. ``Our growth has been in the area of knowledge and technology,'' says Winston-Salem police chief George Sweat.
Last month the department began using a computerized system to dispatch officers to a crime scene. The department hopes the system will cut its response time by several minutes.
Last year the city's Board of Aldermen voted to spend $800,000 to add 25 new officers to the force. Police chief Sweat says the officers are needed to follow through on the department's plan to target high-crime areas with increased surveillance.
``We still have some random patrols,'' Sweat says. ``But we've shifted to a directed patrol system. We pinpoint problem areas and beef up patrol in them.''
One area targeted most recently was just a mile away from where Lafayette and Carrie Baucum live. The department saturated the area with officers for a three-week period, making more than 100 arrests - most for drug trafficking.
``Drugs have made a big difference,'' says Capt. E.L. Yokely, who joined the Winston-Salem force 30 years ago. ``But it's not the only problem. I remember when we used to have problems with teen-agers. We would just call their parents up and the parents would usually take care of the problem. Now the parents often blame us, if we can find them.''
Experts are having trouble pinpointing the causes of increased crime in the South. Some criminologists say FBI statistics may be overstating the problem because the FBI crime reports only measure reported crimes.
``There may just be more people reporting crime,'' says Stevens Clark, a criminologist at the University of North Carolina's Institute of Government. ``Police departments in the South have improved faster than many others. And when departments get better, people tend to put more faith in the police and report crimes more.''
Others are baffled by the statistics.
``A couple of years ago, we were predicting there would be a decrease in crime in many Southern cities,'' says Phil Cooke, a Duke University economist and criminologist.
Some experts had predicted that the region's new economic prosperity would lead to a decrease in crime. But some Winston-Salem leaders say prosperity has bypassed more residents than the relatively low unemployment rate might indicate.
``To fight crime you must provide jobs, particularly for teen-agers,'' says Alderwoman Vivian Burke. ``If people don't have an opportunity to make an income legally, they sometimes turn to crime.''
Teen-agers are partially responsible for the escalating crime rate in Jackson, Miss., police say. In the past three years, street-gang violence has grown. Police have just started a seven-member task force to try to control the violence.
But task forces and more sophisticated police techniques by themselves won't knock down the rising crime rates, police officers say. ``We need to get the community more involved in fighting crime,'' Sweat says. ``We've lost touch with the community in modern-day policing, and we're trying to get back in touch.''