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Charlotte-Mecklenburg crime drops to 14-year low

Last year's crime rate was the lowest in 14 years, according statistics released by Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police. Crime was down nearly 8 percent from 2007. Still, there were 9 more murders 2008 over the previous year, and a slight increase in aggravated assaults. According to the statistics, the number of crimes committed last year was at a five-year low - and the county had the lowest per capita rate since 1994. Property crime decreased by 8.5 percent last year and violent crime was down by 2.3 percent. Police Chief Rodney Monroe says tailoring crime-fighting strategies to different neighborhoods played some part in bringing the numbers down. "Each division, each response area had an opportunity to go in and look at their crime and see what was most problematic for them and set those goals based on individual communities and neighborhoods," Monroe says.. Some of those strategies include working with businesses and apartment complexes to prevent robberies and car break-ins and ramping up patrols in crime hot spots. The decline wasn't steady throughout the year. The first part of 2008 saw increases, but the numbers began dropping in the second half, coinciding with Monroe's arrival. The steepest decreases came in the last three months of the year, when Monroe said the county saw the benefit of the department's re-organization. Paul Friday, a criminal justice professor at UNC Charlotte, says there are many factors that influence crime. He cautions making a link between changes in police strategies to the overall drop in crime. But Friday says Monroe has made some positive changes, by encouraging divisions to create their own goals. "I believe the way Chief Monroe is doing it is in fact going to the real essence of what community policing is all about. And that is dealing directly with the major causes of the crime in those areas where crime is highest," says Friday. Julie Eiselt is with Neighbors for a Safer Charlotte, a citizens' group that organized a march on City Hall last year demanding more resources for the criminal justice system. She's taking the crime statistics with a grain of salt. "We know that there's no way there could be those long term trends," says Eiselt. "Whatever the police department has done differently we question how sustainable that is because the system itself cannot handle the criminals frankly." As for this year, Monroe says the department will be focusing on gun violence and curbing the number of murders.