Once again, South Carolina has ranked first in a category where it is desirable to be last. The state's violent crime rate was higher than that of any other state in the nation in 2006.
This isn't the only instance in which the state has ranked first when it would like to be last or last when it would like to be first. Someday, perhaps, lawmakers and other state leaders will begin to connect the dots:
• South Carolina has one of the highest school dropout rates (some estimates say the highest) in the nation. A study released in August calculated that 3,100 students drop out of high school each year at a cost to the state of $100 million a year.
• South Carolina's unemployment rate is perennially among the highest in the nation. While the jobless rate dropped from 5.9 percent to 5.6 percent in August, it still remained a full point higher than the national average and was tied with Kentucky and the District of Columbia for fifth-highest in the nation.
• A study by the University of South Carolina released last week showed that, among the 46 states that have minimum required training for new police recruits, South Carolina had the second-lowest number of training hours. South Carolina recruits received an average of only 349 hours last year, compared to 1,582 in West Virginia, which had the highest number of hours, and 903 in Vermont, the second-highest. Only Louisiana had fewer training hours than South Carolina.
With statistics like that regarding factors likely to contribute to the crime rate, it shouldn't be surprising that the state is tops in the nation in violent crime per capita. It also recently has ranked fourth in the nation in burglaries per capita, fifth in thefts and sixth in overall property crimes.
South Carolina's 2006 violent crime rate of 765 per 100,000 people ticked up about 0.5 percent over 2005, according to the FBI's Uniform Crime Report. Violent crimes include murder and non-negligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery and aggravated assault.
Sumter's per-capita violent crime rate ranked third in the nation behind Detroit and Memphis, and Florence ranked fifth behind Shreveport, La., out of 350 metropolitan statistical areas. Law enforcement officials caution against using these rankings to determine which areas are "most dangerous," saying many factors can skew the statistics. But even if South Carolina's violent crime rate is not tops in the nation, it undoubtedly is higher than in most states and a matter of grave concern for South Carolinians.
Demographers and social scientists have struggled for decades to determine what the root causes of crime are and what can be done to reverse them. The results have been inexact and often contradictory.
However, we would venture a guess that a large under-educated, unemployed population of young adults coupled with an under-trained group of law enforcement officers could contribute to the high crime rates. And if South Carolinians want to lower crime, the state needs to address those factors.
Many factors no doubt contribute to highest rate of violent crime in the nation.
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