County crime statistics show need to be alert

Recent crime statistics for Beaufort County give everyone plenty to work on to improve the quality of life here.

Overall, data in the FBI's annual report for each public policing agency in the county indicate that things remained pretty steady from 2009 to 2010.

Encouraging numbers include a decrease in rapes and sexual assaults in Beaufort, down from 10 to three; and a decrease in violent crime in Bluffton. It's encouraging that Bluffton's crime numbers are so low; for example, it experienced only 31 violent crimes last year.

Discouraging numbers include a sharp increase in property crimes -- break-ins, vehicle break-ins, thefts and vehicle thefts -- in Beaufort, up to 804 from 695. Aggravated assaults were up in Beaufort, as well as the area of the county patrolled by the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office, which includes unincorporated Beaufort County and the Town of Hilton Head Island.

Most of the assaults are isolated events, Beaufort Police Chief Matt Clancy said. They are primarily barroom fights or fights between people who know each other.

Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner said a large portion of the assaults are incidents of domestic violence. With almost 600 assaults in his jurisdiction, that gives a chilling glimpse into the high rate of domestic violence going on here.

Police say property crimes could be reduced if more people did their part to protect themselves.

"We could get that number way down if people would work on securing their vehicles," Clancy said.

He said the majority of vehicle break-ins occur when vehicles are left unlocked with popular items in plain view. That's not smart. Everyone likes to laugh at dumb things criminals do; what about dumb things victims do?

Crime statistics in Beaufort County are a little hard to gauge because we have such a large influx of visitors. That can skew crime numbers for towns with our relatively low permanent populations. And the data might show that visitors who came to have a good time in "paradise" let down their guard.

Residents and visitors should not succumb to a false sense of security. As the federal numbers show, crime does indeed happen here. The least each of us can do is to be watchful, report things that look wrong, give tips to police who are trying to resolve cases, and try to cut out opportunity for criminals. It won't stop crime, but everyone can play a role in reducing it.