GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) – There is a mixed report on how Greensboro has fared in what has been a topic of intense national focus: the rising number of homicides.

In its annual report to the city, the Greensboro Police Department said the number of homicides declined by 15% in 2021, but the rate of those crimes is much higher in almost every city in North Carolina and state averages across the nation.

Greensboro Police Chief Brian James (WGHP)
Greensboro Police Chief Brian James (WGHP)

There also was one other precipitous note: The other criminal topic of great national discussion, drugs, is taking an increasing bite out of Greensboro, showing significant increases in drug cases, overdoses and the deaths they sometimes cause.

In what would be his final report before retiring, Chief Brian James touted a decline in most major crimes – including homicides – and improvements in various initiatives the department employs.

The sharp, 16-page report displays many of the programs that law enforcement officials often identify as important to stopping crime before it happens: community investment, neighborhood policing and connectivity and recruiting volunteers to help in some key areas.

And many of the data points were positive. GPD reports that in 2021, out of 212,495 calls for service, there were:

  • 53 homicides, down 15% from 2020.
  • 1,983 aggravated assaults, down by 1%.
  • 551 robberies, down 6%.
  • 1,759 burglaries, down 21%.

The homicide trend

But if those 53 homicides – and the downward trend – seem like a positive, here’s some perspective. If you calculate data per 100,000 residents, North Carolina’s homicide rate so far in 2022 is 5.8%, the world population review reports, which surpasses the national average of 5.01% and ranks about 31st best among the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

That’s significantly higher than the nation’s worst state for the murder rate, Louisiana, at 12.4%, followed by Missouri, Nevada, Maryland and Arkansas. New Hampshire has the best rate, which is 1%, followed by North Dakota, Maine, Rhode Island, Idaho and Minnesota.

Greensboro’s per-100K rate calculates to 17.67% for the 299,035 residents GPD cites in its report.

As a comparison of that trend, CBS News in February assembled the FBI’s murder rates for 2019 for cities with at least 100,000 population, and Greensboro was at 14.43 per 100K, which was 44th nationally and surpassed buy only one city in North Carolina – High Point, at 16.77 and No. 34.

Winston-Salem was at No. 56 (12.5). Elsewhere around the state, Charlotte was 59th, at 12.08, Fayetteville was 55th, at 12.76, and Durham was 52nd at 13.20.

Greensboro Police data (GPD)

If you want to know the worst five on that list: St. Louis was at 64.54, Baltimore at 58.27, Birmingham at 50.62, Detroit at 41.45 and Dayton at 34.18. So Greensboro isn’t nearly the worst.

“We focused on violent crimes by getting guns off the street, looking at violent repeat offenders, and getting officers and resources to the right parts of the city to focus on reducing and preventing crime,” James wrote in his prologue to the report.

In fact, GPD reports that in 2021 its officers sized 1,772 guns off the streets, which was an increase of 41%.

Drug numbers up substantially

GPD’s complaints data. (GPD)

But when you look at drugs, the numbers are precipitously worse. GPD reports that overdoses were up 25%, to 846, and there were 122 deaths caused by overdose, which was up by 8%. GPD says charges in drug crimes were up 61%, to 1,184.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that as of May 1, drug deaths had increased nationally by 15.9%. Through 2021, drug deaths in North Carolina had risen by 21%, to 4,023.

Pew reported in February data through 2019 that showed 1.56 million people were arrested for drug possession nationally, the highest number of any crime. Methamphetamines drove much of that increase.

One thing that GPD has done to address drug-related crimes and other potential crimes is to create a Behavioral Health Response Team, which James describes as “a co-response team of specially trained officers and clinicians for mental health calls.” That unit handled 1,962 calls last year, GPD reports.

Other key points

The report, which highlighted recruitment for the department’s nearly 900 employees – including 679 sworn officers – to reflect the community’s needs, had several other points to note:

  • There were 52 traffic fatalities, up 49%.
  • Use of force events rose from 162 to 195, out of 218,677 calls, which means that only .09% of calls resulted in use of force. There was only one complaint, which was found to be unsupported (in 2020 1 of 2 complaints was sustained).
  • Complaints against offers were down overall, 177 to 126, allegations were down, 325-230, and employee complaints were down, 237-127.
  • Crimestoppers received 1,584 tips that led to 443 charges and 117 cases cleared and the seizure of $264,586 in cash, property and narcotics.
Greensboro Police Department’s organizational chart. (GPD)