Despite high rates of drug crimes and suicides, Ashe County continues to have a low violent crime rate, due in part to the vigilance of the Ashe County Sheriff’s Office, but also due to the area’s sparse population and lack of a true gang presence.
“Our murder rate has typically been pretty low per capita,” said Ashe County Sheriff James Williams. “We average about one murder per year, if that.”
According to Country Health Rankings and Road Maps, Ashe County has the 10th lowest crime rate in North Carolina, based on statistics gathered in 2008-2010 from the National Vital Statistics System. Violent crime is composed of four offenses: murder and non-negligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault.
The violent crime rate in Ashe County is estimated at 136 violent crimes per year for 100,000 people. This rate is only one third as high as North Carolina’s average of 411 violent crimes per 100,000.
Surrounding counties also tallied a much lower violent crime rate than the North Carolina average.
Alleghany County boasted the lowest violent crime rate in the state, with a rate of only 36 crimes per 100,000. Avery County had a rate of 108 violent crimes per 100,000, Watauga County had a rate of 114 violent crimes per 100,000, and Wilkes County had a rate of 261 violent crimes per 100,000.
Williams and ACSO Capt. Carolyn Gentry both gave several reasons why Ashe County has a low violent crime rate. One reason offered by Gentry was the lack of a gang presence in the county.
“We don’t have any gangs, so we don’t have to combat that, unlike large metropolitan areas,” said Gentry.
Also, the ACSO constantly has officers on patrol, trying to maintain a law-enforcement presence in the county, according to Williams. More than anything else though, Williams said the low violent crime rate is a “symptom of the area.”
“We’re just good people here in the mountains, by in large,” said Williams. “Most of the crimes listed in the violent crime category are domestic-related crimes,” he said.
Sperling’s Best Places is an organization that analyzes data for different locations and submits ratings to major publications. According to Sperling’s, on a scale from 1 (low) to 10 (high), the violent crime rate in Ashe County equals 2. On the same scale, the United States’ average is 4.
Still, Williams said the county still faces several problems with non-violent crime, which include drug-related crimes, breaking and entering crimes, and a high suicide rate.
“Drugs and break-ins are as high as anyone else,” said Williams. “But robberies and weapons’ crimes are few and far between.”
To help combat non-violent crime in the area, the newly-appointed school resource officers provide students with “life skills” classes about bullying, stealing, respect and self-esteem, according to Williams. Also, since Williams took office in 2006, the ACSO has taken a greater interest in enforcing drug laws.
“We’ve made a real push in drugs over the past few years,” said Williams.
According to Gentry, because of the push on drugs, the county receives a percentage of monies from federal agencies (like the Drug Enforcement Administration of the Federal Bureau of Investigation) assisted by the ACSO. Because many of the drug crimes extend to other areas, sometimes even out of the state, federal authorities become involved.
“When they (federal agencies) make those drug busts, we get a percentage of the seized assets,” said Williams.
According to Williams, acquired monies go into the narcotics fund, which among other things, is used to purchase vehicles. Williams said four vehicles currently used by the sheriff’s office were purchased through the narcotics fund, at no cost to county tax-payers.