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Despite a 0.9 percent decrease in the overall crime rate for North Carolina, crime rates rose in nine of the state’s 17 westernmost counties in 2011, according to a North Carolina Department of Justice report released Thursday.

Western North Carolina counties that experienced a rise in their overall crime rates were Buncombe, Clay, Henderson, Macon, Madison, McDowell, Polk, Rutherford and Yancey counties.

The overall crime rates dropped in Avery, Haywood, Jackson, Swain and Transylvania counties.

Information about overall crime rates was incomplete or unavailable for Cherokee, Graham and Mitchell counties.

It was the second consecutive year that the overall crime rate increased in Clay, Henderson, McDowell, Rutherford and Yancey counties. Those five counties were also the only reporting counties in Western North Carolina to see a continuous increase in property crime since 2009.

Western North Carolina counties with increases in their overall crime rates also saw rises in their property crime rates.

In 2011, rates for violent crimes increased in Avery, Buncombe, Clay and Polk counties.

Although its overall crime rate decreased, Avery County’s violent crime rate increased the most of any Western North Carolina county for which statistics were available – nearly doubling from 88 to 175.8 crimes per 100,000 people.

Violent crimes tracked in the North Carolina Department of Justice report include murder, rape and assault.

The Avery County Sheriff’s Office did not return requests for comment.

Property crimes rise

Property crime seemed to be the hallmark of Western North Carolina’s 2011 index crime rate increases – all nine counties that had increases in their overall crime also had increases in their property crime rates, while only three of those counties had increases in violent crime rates — all of which were less than 10 crimes per 100,000 people.

Property crime in the agency report includes burglary, larceny, motor vehicle theft and arson.

Statewide, larceny was the only individual crime rate that increased.

Clay County had Western North Carolina’s largest increase in property crime rates, with an increase from 2010 of a little less than 1,000 property crimes per 100,000 residents.

Dani Moody of the Clay County Sheriff’s Office attributed the increase to the ailing economy.

“We believe it to be the economy and lack of jobs,” Moody said. “People are taking items from properties to try to sell them and make money.”

Moody said the department implemented a house-check program last month to address the increase in property crime.

Residents can sign up to have a sheriff check on their homes twice a day while they are out of town, Moody said.

Although the program has not resulted in any arrests, Moody said the program’s popularity has continued to increase among residents, with more citizens signing up each day.

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Hank Shell is a contributing reporter and photographer with Carolina Public Press. Contact him at

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