Cost of Growth: As Asheville violent crimes increase, closure rates decrease

WLOS

Derrick Lee Junior's family will always picture him as the, smart, sweet, and compassionate young man he is in childhood photos. But they won't get to see the man he could have become. Lee was just twelve years old when someone shot and killed him at Lee Walker Heights.

"During the holidays, it's really hard, we miss Derrick a lot," his grandfather told News 13.

His grandfather and grandmother, Eddie and Charlotte Tolbert, raised him. They say there are reminders of their grandson everywhere.

"On Thanksgiving, he'd go out and help put Christmas decorations up in the yard. We really felt down on Thanksgiving Day because he wasn't there," Tolbert said.

Roughly five months after his death, Asheville Police Department says no arrests have been made in Lee's shooting death.

"Still, they haven't made an arrest pertaining to Derrick's murder. We’re waiting to hear something. That long period of time, we were thinking someone-they would have arrested them, and charged them with the murder of my grandson by now," Tolbert told News 13.

APD says they are still seeking information from the public on this incident, and that the investigation in ongoing.

"My wife, she cries a lot of the time, saying something needs to be done," Tolbert said.

The Tolberts aren't alone. As violent crime increases in Asheville, we found the percent of crimes solved dropped from 2014 to 2018.

The data given to us by police shows the percentage for closure rates of crimes here in 2014 was 36 percent. In 2018, year to date, that number went down to 30 percent. Violent crime specifically went from a closure rate of 63 percent in 2014 to 55 percent in 2018, year to date.

In an interview last month about violent crime in the City of Asheville, outgoing Chief Tammy Hooper said the quickly rising population was a contributing factor.

"As our population gets higher, as we have more and more visitors, all of those crime numbers are going to continue to go up," Hooper said.

She went on to say this about closure rates:

"Our closure rates are very high here for most of the violent crime types. We have an amazing group of detectives in this police department."

We reached back out to APD after receiving the data showing closure rates decreasing as crime increases between the years 2014 and so far in 2018. The department was unable to meet again for an interview, so we asked by e-mail why those closure rates are decreasing.

A representative with APD responded in part by saying, quote, "...over the past years we have seen an increase in the number of calls for service and reports that are being generated, however, our staff numbers are staying relatively the same."

They also point out clearance rates reflect the year the case was closed--not necessarily the year the crime was committed, and said the time a violent crime takes to solve varies. They included a chart with annual data that shows closure rates fluctuating year to year, with violent crime decreasing in 2017 and 2018 year to date. Police spokesperson Christina Hallingse also said this about homicide closure rates specifically, "I looked at the homicides for the past five years (since 2013). This includes full calendar years for 2013-2017 and year-to-date numbers for 2018. There have been a total of 50 homicides during this roughly 5 year period. Of the 50, 11 cases remain open and under further investigation. That is a closure rate of 78% for homicides, which is higher than the national average. In the FBI's latest Unified Crime Report, they list clearance rates for murder/non-negligent manslaughter in 2017 at 61.6%. "



We wanted to compare the data in Asheville to similar sized cities in North Carolina, for the same years we looked at in Asheville. Information given to us by Greenville, North Carolina police shows a closure rate for approximately 65 percent of violent crime in 2014, down to about 52 percent in 2018.

In Concord, however, it was a slightly different story, with closure rates for violent crime increasing from 35 percent to 52 percent for violent crime.

Because Chief Hooper brought up more people living here and more tourists in town, we went to talk to an expert on population growth.

Tom Tveidt is a Research Economist with the SYNEVA Economics. He explained the growth the City of Asheville has seen recently.

"Most recently Asheville, this is between 2017 and 2018, has seen a real jump in the population growth, at a rate of 3.2 percent. Now, the previous four years annually, so this has been a jump. I don't know how sustainable it is, but it has been a real increase," Tveidt said.

Tvedit pointed out to us that other studies showed less of an increase last year, but what all the data agrees on, Asheville is growing quickly. Tveidt showed us the population increase isn't coming from an increasing birth rate, it's from people moving here. Interestingly, he says recent years have shown millennials moving to the area for a "better quality of life."

While Asheville grapples with these developments and their impact on crime and closure rates, the Tolberts search for their own closure.

"For the community, someone know who the guys was that murdered my grandson Derrick. I pray to God you would have the courage to come forward and let the authorities know about the guys who did that," Tolbert said.

Anyone with information or a lead on a suspect is asked to call Asheville Police. Call 828-252-1110 or Crime Stoppers at 828-255-5050.

We reached out to the Buncombe County Sheriff's Office for the data on their closure rates and are still waiting on that information. We will update our web story with that when we do.

For information on national clearances from the FBI, go here: https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2016/crime-in-the-u.s.-2016/topic-pages/clearances

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