Traffic wrecks increase in Matthews, Mint Hill

Police in Matthews and Mint Hill are focusing on wrecks and “dangerous driving offenses” after seeing an increase in the number of wrecks so far this year.

This is the third straight reporting period officers in Matthews have seen an increase in traffic collisions, according to mid-year crime statistics recently released. The trend follows significant increases from 2011 to 2012, including fatal wrecks in both towns in 2012 – one of which involved alcohol.

The rising trend is forcing Matthews Police Department Chief Rob Hunter and his officers to focus on dangerous drivers. Numbers from January to June indicate a 10 percent increase in injury-involved collisions, Hunter said.

Hunter believes the increase in daylight hours plays a role in that change.

“Longer amounts of daylight kind of prompts speed,” he said. “People may think ‘The farther I can see, the faster I can go.’”

An increase in cars is causing an increase in crashes in Mint Hill, Chief Tim Ledford said.

“Traffic has increased. There’s a lot more hustle and bustle in Mint Hill,” Ledford said, adding new housing construction as well as construction on the new police department likely prompted the increase. “New houses equal more residents and more cars and construction crews. People who are not familiar with the area, like contractors, may increase crashes.”

Mint Hill’s traffic enforcement efforts have been stymied in recent months with a shortage of up to five officers. Ledford said that shortage is evident considering the 945 citations issued during the first six months of the year compared to the 1,156 citations officers issued during the same time last year.

“That tells me that we’re not doing traffic enforcement because we’re keeping busy with calls for service and have less time for traffic enforcement,” he said, adding the department recently hired two officers and is in the process of filling the remaining slots. “Officers at the Mint Hill Police Department have gone above and beyond and have filled in when they have been asked to. They want their citizens to know they are going to be there for them and make sure this is a safe community.”

Mint Hill continues to see rashes of vehicle break-ins, especially among residents who don’t lock their cars.

“People aren’t locking their cars and are keeping valuables out,” Ledford said. “Every time (officers) go out to these calls, we tell residents that when these criminals find an area that’s easy to access they’ll come back.”

In Matthews, Hunter said he’s pleased with the low number of reported property crimes, such as burglaries and larcenies.

“That gives us some comfort,” he said. “Hopefully, we’re doing something right and the public is educated.”

The decline can be partially attributed, Hunter said, to the department’s new Citizens on Patrol program, which allows trained volunteers to patrol the town as a crime-prevention method.

“We think that has helped. There’s more interaction with the public,” Hunter said. “They do a lot of our business contacts and alarm permit applications.”

Officers with the department’s specialized targeted enforcement unit are now focusing on investigating “street-level drug crimes,” including those selling drugs on Matthews streets.

“We definitely have that here,” Hunter said. Officers made 202 drug arrests from January to June, compared to 160 during the same time period.

And Matthews has seen a sharp increase in the number of reported forgery, counterfeit and embezzlement cases. There were 78 reported cases from January to June in comparison to just 51 during the same time period last year, Hunter said.

“On a weekly basis, we’re still taking reports on Internet fraud and ID theft. That’s where we’re seeing an increase,” he said, adding he encourages residents to shred all bills, receipts and other sensitive documents.

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