Residents in Matthews and Mint Hill are more likely to be involved in a vehicle crash than become a victim of a violent crime, according to 2012 crime department statistics from both police departments.
The number of vehicle crashes in both towns increased significantly from 2011 to 2012 and first responders in both towns saw one fatal crash in 2012. The Matthews crash involved alcohol.
There were 1,928 vehicle crashes reported in Matthews last year, a 17 percent increase from 2011, according to department records. Of those crashes, the number involving injuries increased 9 percent from 2011, Police Chief Rob Hunter said. Officers charged 201 people for driving while impaired, just one charge less than those issued in 2011.
Marie Crook, 62, and her daughter, Jennifer Hunt, 37, of Stallings, were killed Dec. 26 after their vehicle was hit by an impaired driver at the intersection of East Independence Boulevard and Matthews Township Parkway.
Justin Jones, 28, of 7905 Vinings Oak Lane, Apt. 631, in Matthews was charged with two counts of felony death by vehicle, two counts of involuntary manslaughter, driving while impaired and reckless driving.
In Mint Hill, there were 569 crashes reported in 2012, 67 more than those reported in 2011. Officers charged 43 people for driving while impaired in 2012, a decrease of 51 charges from 2011.
Adam Lepisto, 25, of Concord, died in a single-car crash Dec. 21 near the Mint Hill intersection of Lawyers and Truelight Church roads. Police say speed was a factor in the crash, but at press time toxicology results from the Mecklenburg County Medical Examiner’s Office weren’t available to determine if alcohol was a factor in the crash.
Focusing on impaired drivers is a top priority in both Matthews and Mint Hill, police chiefs say. It’s a focus that isn’t just reserved for the holidays.
“We really want the public to be aware that if we stop someone and they’re impaired, they’re going to jail,” Hunter said. In Matthews, officers have worked with state ABC officials to offer training classes for employees who serve alcohol in bars and restaurants to recognize levels of impairment and stop service when necessary.
“We did just a few of those classes in 2012, but with the increase we’re seeing … in new bars and restaurants, that’s something we’re going to push back in as a priority,” Hunter said. The department recently
created a targeted enforcement unit, a four-officer team which also can be used to target impaired drivers, he said.
Mint Hill Police Chief Tim Ledford said when it comes to apprehending impaired drivers, presence is key.
“We’re just trying to be in a more proactive stance and be seen more often,” he said.
That’s the same approach Ledford said Mint Hill officers will take this year to combat increases in robberies and larcenies. Though the department saw an decrease in aggravated assaults last year, Ledford said his focus will remain on preventing that violent crime, too.
“We’ll put more vehicles in neighborhoods and are training store staff with security measures they can take,” he said, adding the department offers free security checks for businesses and online crime prevention tips for businesses and residents.
The department has been bombarded in recent months with vehicle break-ins, including valuables being stolen from unlocked vehicles, which contributed to the spike in larceny cases from 2011 to 2012, Ledford said.
Some residents who have had their vehicles broken into more than once still aren’t getting the message that valuables shouldn’t be left inside and car doors should be locked, Ledford said.
“I don’t know what it takes to get through to them,” he said. “We go out of our way to try to help. I don’t know what else we could do … I think we’ve gone above and beyond on the educational part.”
In Matthews, Hunter is concerned about the 28 percent up tick in burglaries, especially those involving homes. Residential burglaries increased from 54 in 2011 to 75 in 2012 while commercial burglaries increased only slightly from 12 in 2011 to 16 in 2012, he said.
The economy, he said, is partly to blame.
“The typical assumption is when the economy is bad, crime goes up. But we saw a fairly dramatic decline in burglary for both residential and commercial properties. And I truly believe part of the reason for that is most crimes are crimes of opportunity,” Hunter said, adding 2011 records showed low crime stats the department hadn’t seen since the 1990s.
“The typical (method) of a home burglary is they ring the doorbell and if you answer … they leave. If you don’t answer, they go around the back and kick in a door or break a window. When the economy was really strong … you would be surprised to find five or six people at home in a subdivision. But with more people at home during a bad economy, it resulted in fewer residential burglaries. What you’re starting to see now is with more people (back at work), we’re starting to see an up tick.”
The department is combating the trend with more patrols through neighborhoods and its newly-created volunteer force also will soon begin patroling subdivisions. In 2013, the department also will launch a training program with other town departments, including public works and parks and recreation, to teach employees what to look for when they’re out and about.
Forming and maintaining active neighborhood watch programs also are key to preventing crime, Hunter said.
“We take every opportunity we can get to just think in the minds of the criminals,” he said.
For crime prevention tips, visit http://matthewsnc.gov/Departments/Police/CommunitySafety.aspx or www.minthill.com and click “Police Department” under the “Town Government” tab.
To schedule a free security assessment for your business, call Matthews police at 704-847-4069 or Mint Hill police at 704-545-1085.