Officials with both the Matthews and Mint Hill police departments say engaging the community is key to preventing crime in the community after both towns saw an overall crime increase last year.
Matthews saw a 3 percent increase in all reported crimes in 2013 compared to 2012, and Mint Hill – which released its 2013 statistics last week – saw a 5 percent increase. Matthews also saw a 6 percent increase in overall reported crimes in the first quarter of 2014 compared to the same time period in 2013 – January to March. Mint Hill has not released the statistics for the first quarter of 2014, according to Mint Hill Chief Tim Ledford.
Both departments have worked to engage the community with additional programs like the Matthews Citizens Police Academy, started to train citizens who want to volunteer and patrol the town.
“We also utilize (citizen volunteers) on preventative controls within the community, and I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from the community,” Matthews Chief Rob Hunter said. “… The more eyes and ears we have out there the better we can protect the community.”
Mint Hill also has designated officers who work with local homeowners’ associations to build relationships with the community. The department hosts Coffee with a Cop events to give residents a chance to ask questions, voice concerns and meet the officers who work to protect their neighborhoods. Ledford said the more comfortable the residents of Mint Hill feel talking to officers the more they can help the department combat crime.
“When the citizen is more comfortable they will relay things about things they see in their neighborhoods … that has helped out quite a bit,” he said.
Part of that work within the communities is aimed at combatting the rise in drug trafficking and drug-related incidents. Matthews already is focusing on drug trafficking problems, while Mint Hill hopes to do the same if the department’s budget requests for the coming year are approved by Mint Hill leaders.
The area with one of the most significant increases in 2013, and the first quarter of 2014, for Matthews police was drug related arrests, something Hunter contributes to new task forces focused on drugs in the community and officers being more proactive with impaired or unsafe drivers.
“A year and a half ago we developed a new internal unit, and their charge is pretty much to target and focus on particular crimes based on what we are seeing at the time,” Hunter said. And after seeing an increase in drug activity in the area, specifically at local hotels, the department decided to focus the unit on drugs in the community.
The department saw a 53 percent increase in drug arrests in 2013 compared to 2012, with 465 arrests in 2013 and 304 in 2012. That trend continued into 2014 where officers have seen a 30 percent increase in the first quarter of 2014 compared to the same time period the previous year.
In addition to the internal task force, the Matthews Police Department also has officers working with two Drug Enforcement Agency groups focusing on pushing back against the increase in drugs seen in the community, particularly heroin, which is something towns are seeing across the country, Hunter said.
Although the statistics show a decrease in drug-related arrests in Mint Hill in 2013 compared to 2012, with a 32 percent decrease, the department is requesting funding from the Mint Hill Board of Commissioners for a new position to focus on drug use and trafficking throughout town. Mint Hill will not adopt the budget for the 2014-15 year until June.