NEWS | Dec. 28, 2015

Security Forces and Community Police Departments Team Up to Discuss Crime in the Lowcountry

By Lt. Col. Brad Brainard 628th Security Forces Squadron commander

Responding to recent inquiries concerning off installation criminal activities, JB Charleston Security Forces and Air Force Office of Special Investigations invited local police agency experts to team up for a discussion on crime in the local area and what military members should know to prevent becoming a victim.

Representatives from North Charleston Police Department, Charleston County Sheriff and Berkley County Sheriff's office met with Security Forces leaders to discuss local crime trends and awareness in the Lowcountry.

North Charleston Police Deputy Chief David Cheatle reported local police agencies provide daily crime data and mapping information, listing violent crimes, arsons, burglaries, larcenies, robberies, motor vehicle thefts and other crimes involving drugs and weapons to the Regional Analysis & Information Data Sharing (RAIDS) website.  This free website provides users up-to-date data on criminal activity in the local area and is available to the public at www.raidsonline.com.

Cheatle said users can simply click various dots on the map to get location and basic information on crimes which have occurred down to the neighborhood street-level. RAIDS allows the police and the community to be engaged in keeping an eye on their neighborhoods and by raising awareness to the possibility of future crime.

How did neighborhoods near Joint Base Charleston compare to the rest of the state and country?  Reviewing local and county crime statistics, the team noted criminal activity in the Charleston area, following nation-wide trends, has been decreasing.   The Security Forces also reviewed the FBI crime statistics, which confirmed local property crimes and most violent crime in areas near the base have dropped over the past few years.  However, the team noted there are "pockets" of high crime areas related to drug and gang activities that JB Charleston members should avoid.

By using RAIDS, members can easily review maps before deciding where to live, commute or visit.  Overall, Charleston County has 14% more property crime than South Carolina and 10% more personal crime. Berkeley County has 14% less property crime than South Carolina and 26% less personal crime than the state average.

The overarching objective of the meeting was to accurately compare, assess and report crime and risks to the JB Charleston community.   A review of the annual statistics on specific crimes indexed in the annual Uniform Crime Reports by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) found the nation saw a drop in overall violent crime by 1.6 percent between 2013 and 2014. The 2014 violent crime rate was 366 incidents per 100,000 inhabitants and the U.S. property crime rate was 2,596 per 100,000 -- a five percent decrease when compared with the 2013 rate.  Vermont had the lowest violent crime rate in the United States with about 99 offenses per 100,000 inhabitants. District of Columbia had the highest violent crime rate with 1244 offenses per 100,000 inhabitants. South Carolina had a violent crime rate of 498 offenses and a property crime rate of 3460 per 100,000 inhabitants.
 
A commonly held misconception is that areas near military installations are plagued by crime due to proximity to high traffic, industrial parks, pawn shops and payday loan brokers.  Likewise, some real estate websites and demographic data websites offer personalized ratings on crime statistics gleaned from FBI data on areas near bases and industrial areas which can be misleading due to data limitations, bias or inaccuracy.   Notably, the American Society of Criminology disapproves commercial crime rating programs as "an irresponsible misuse" of crime data and the FBI has previously issued statements on its website criticizing such use of its statistics.  Additionally, several academic studies report that military neighborhoods as a whole tend to be safer than most other communities.

The team agreed that statistics alone are not an absolute measure of risk and crime is often location- and activity-dependent.  The team agreed that success in fighting crime and raising awareness is achieved by understanding where crimes may occur and quickly reporting suspicious activities to police.  The ever-present smart phone gives bystanders a powerful tool to report, snap a photo and/or quickly call 9-1-1 if they see something out of the ordinary.

Although the intent was to discuss criminal activity near areas of the Joint Base, an added benefit of the meeting was to discuss the unique issues that necessitate collaborative agreements between military and civilian agencies to protect people and resources.

All agreed that future meetings will strengthen the collective ability of military members and communities to be safer places to live, work and raise families.