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Ex-FBI agent will chair Governor's Crime Commission

Chris Swecker, a former assistant director at the FBI, has been named chairman of the Governor’s Crime Commission. Gov. Pat McCrory announced the appointment Tuesday, along with naming several others to the commission.

Swecker, who was the lead FBI agent in North Carolina for many years, conducted an exhaustive audit of how the State Bureau of Investigation crime lab handled blood evidence. The audit, at Attorney General Roy Cooper’s request, found some lab personnel had tailored their reports to favor the prosecution. It identified more than 200 cases where the SBI lab reports did not reflect the results obtained in the laboratory.

Swecker is currently practicing law in his own firm in Mecklenburg County.

McCrory also appointed Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison to the commission. Harrison, elected in 2002, was a member of the State Highway Patrol and has trained search and rescue dogs.

The governor also appointed Gail Mills, co-founder of the Durham Rescue Mission.

Shanahan picks ex-FBI agent to help run Dpt. of Public Safety

New state Department of Public Safety Secretary Kieran Shanahan has named former FBI agent Frank Perry to be his interim chief operating officer. He replaces COO Mikael Gross, who was dismissed on Monday.

UPDATED

Federal grand jury indicts state Rep. LaRoque on eight counts

State Rep. Stephen LaRoque was indicted Tuesday by a federal grand jury in Raleigh accusing him of eight counts of theft and illegal financial transactions. The charges stem from LaRoque's handling of nonprofit entities he owned that loaned federal money to business owners who had trouble finding loans elsewhere.

LaRoque, 48, a Republican from Kinston, was chairman of the powerful House Rules Committee this past session. He was defeated in a primary election in May.

The case was investigated by the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation. The probe began after a series of articles published by the government watchdog group N.C. Policy Watch questioned his management of the nonprofits.

Crowd protests FBI probe of anti-war activists

About 35 people rallied outside the federal courthouse in Raleigh Tuesday to protest an ongoing FBI investigation of anti-war activists.

Kosta Harlan said two FBI agents visited his home in Durham on Friday and said they wanted to question him. Two other agents were stationed outside his home, he said.

Harlan, 26, has been active in the anti-war movement and helped organize protests in 2008 at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn.

"They said they had a lot of information about me and wanted to speak to me in relation to a terrorism investigation," Harlan said Tuesday. "I believe I'm being targeted for my anti-war activism."

Harlan said he told the agents he wouldn't talk without his attorney present, but that they didn't leave and continued to try to get him to answer their questions for about 10 minutes before leaving.

Later that day, Harlan said he went to a coffee shop in downtown Durham to meet with another activist. Within hours, FBI agents approached that person wanting to know what the meeting with Harlan had been about, raising concern that Harlan was either followed to the coffee shop or that his telephone has been bugged.

Harlan's visit from federal agents comes after raids last week on anti-war groups in Chicago and Minnesota. Search warrants suggested agents were looking for connections between the activists and radical groups in Colombia and the Middle East. Some of those whose homes were raided told the Associated Press that agents told them they are suspected of providing material support for terrorism.

"Everyone who is concerned about our democratic freedoms should be concerned about this intimidation by the FBI," Harlan said. 

The rally in Raleigh on Tuesday was timed to coincide with other protests around the country. Activists held signs reading "Anti-war activists are not terrorists" and "Stop FBI harassment."

During the rally, several men who appeared to be federal law enforcement officers stood outside the doors of the courthouse. At least eight Raleigh police officers watched from the parking lot of the post office across the street.

Speaking into a bullhorn, several activists expressed dismay at that what they termed as harassment from federal agents is continuing under the Obama Administration. Khalilah Sabra of Raleigh compared the situation to the FBI surveillance of civil rights leaders such as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. during the 1960s.

"We don't see Blackwater being investigated," Sabra said, referring to the private security contractor now called Xe, which is headquartered in North Carolina. 

Burr: Keep Guantanamo open

U.S. Sen. Richard Burr reiterated his opposition to closing Guantanamo Bay.

The Winston-Salem Republican, who visited the U.S.-run prison in Cuba earlier this year, told Dome yesterday that he thinks it should remain open.

"Just yesterday, the Director of the FBI said that bringing detainees to the United States would pose a number of risks, even if placed in maximum security prisons," he said in a statement. "His assessment reinforces the fact that we must find a practical alternative before we close the facility or release any detainees."

He said that bringing Guantanamo detainees to the United States "could compromise our national security for years to come."

President Obama has ordered the prison closed by the end of the year, but Congressional Democrats have cut $80 million in funding set aside to close the prison.

After the jump, the complete statement.

FBI subpoenas Highway Patrol

The FBI issued a subpoena to the state Highway Patrol today, ordering the agency to produce all records related to private air travel of the Easley family.

The request is made as part of a grand jury investigation, according to the documents. The grand jury meets next week, according to the subpoena, Andy Curliss reports.

Besides seeking information about the private travels of former Gov. Mike Easley, his wife Mary Easley and his son Michael Easley Jr., the subpoena requests documents relating to:

* Payments made in exchange for the air travel.
* Communications with the Easley family regarding the private travel.
* Communications regarding public inquiries surrounding the air travel.
* The state Highway Patrol's records retention policy.
* The retention or destruction of records related to travel by the Easley family.

The News & Observer published a story on Saturday detailing private flights that the former governor took based on records Easley had kept secret while in office. Some flights were free, according to aircraft owners and pilots who flew him. Some were not reported on campaign disclosure reports, though the records show that they were campaign flights.

The records are held by the state Highway Patrol, which has a special unit to protect the governor. Easley and administration officials had said the records' release while he was in office would compromise his security.

In addition, the N&O showed in its report that there are gaps in the records and that other flights likely took place for which no records have been made available. Nothing has been provided for the entire year of 2005, for example. Patrol officials say they have scoured the unit's files and cannot locate any records other than those already provided.

Update: A second subpoena was served Friday at the patrol's headquarters and to Capt. Alan Melvin, who headed the unit for several years. Melvin was placed on administration duty as of 1 p.m. today, a patrol spokesman said. That means he will work only on administrative tasks. 

Claims Dept: Alliance on Charlotte crime

An ad by the Alliance for North Carolina attacks Republican gubernatorial candidate Pat McCrory over his record as Charlotte mayor.

What the ad says: The ad begins with a postcard image of Charlotte with the words "Welcome to Charlotte! ... not the safest place." Narrator: "Charlotte, North Carolina. A higher crime rate than New York and L.A. That didn't stop Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory from taking a pay raise for himself, but vetoing a pay raise for police and firefighters, even as crime increased. And the Charlotte Observer said 'McCrory failed to address deep-seated problems by not adequately funding police and fire resources.' Mayor McCrory, stop supporting pay raises for politicians like yourself, and start supporting police and firefighters."

The background: The ad makes several claims about crime and the city budget.

POLICE AND FIREFIGHTERS: In 2006, the Democratic majority on the Charlotte City Council passed a budget that included the first tax increase in 10 years.

The budget included a three percent raise for city workers, plus an additional five percent for certain police officers and firefighters.

McCrory vetoed the budget, saying among other things that the tax increase was unnecessary.

According to city council minutes from that year, he also said he had a "respectful disagreement" over giving one group of city employees higher raises than others.

"We saw fire uniforms, we saw sanitation uniforms, we saw police uniforms in here, yet we took one select group of good people and said you are going to get more across the board," he said, according to the minutes.

In 2007, the Charlotte Observer editorial board wrote that McCrory had not "adequately" funded police and fire resources in an editorial endorsing him for re-election.

CRIME RATE: Every year, police agencies around the country submit statistics on reported crime to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Based on the numbers for murder, rape, burglary, robber, aggravated assault and motor vehicle theft, CQ Press publishes an annual list of crime rankings for cities with more than 75,000 people.

In 2007, CQ Press ranked Charlotte the 50th least safe out of 378 cities — the worst score for a North Carolina city. Los Angeles was 135th least safe; New York City, 237th.

However, the FBI says on its Web site that these kinds of rankings are "simplistic" and "incomplete," since they do not take into account other variables, such as demographics and its geography, that could affect crime in a given area.

Overall, the FBI statistics show that the crime rate has gone down in Charlotte since McCrory took office in 1995, although there was an uptick from 2005 to 2006 — the year McCrory vetoed the budget.

PAY RAISES: As mayor of Charlotte since 1996, McCrory's salary and expenses have risen from $24,800 to $39,900. That's about a 60-percent increase.

Adjusted for inflation, however, it's more like a 20 percent raise.

The Charlotte mayor does not typically vote on the city budget, which includes pay raises, but he can veto it. If he does, it takes seven out of 11 votes from the City Council to override his veto.

In 1998, McCrory broke a tie, voting with the City Council's Republicans to overturn a pay raise for city leaders that would have boosted his own salary by several thousand dollars.

This year, the City Council narrowly approved a pay raise for members and the mayor in a vote that McCrory did not join. McCrory did not make any public statements on the raise and did not veto the budget, but his campaign staff said later that he opposed it.

Is it accurate? The ad is technically accurate, but overall it paints a misleading picture. While the crime rate increased in 2006, it has been down overall during McCrory's tenure. The pay raises for the mayor were in a different year than the pay raises for firefighters. And there are reasons to be skeptical of the comparison between Charlotte and New York and L.A.

— Ryan Teague Beckwith

Charlotte crime from '05 to '06

What happened to crime in Charlotte from 2005 to 2006?

That depends on how you slice the statistics.

The number of reported violent crimes (murder, rape, robbery and assault) dropped from 7,933 to 7,532, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation's uniform crime reports.

At the same time, the estimated population grew from 677,122 to 699,398, so the number of violent crimes per 100,000 residents dropped from 1,172 to 1,077.

Meantime, the number of reported property crimes (burglary, theft and motor vehicle theft) rose from 46,589 to 48,886.

That also increased on a per capita basis, going from 6,880 to 6,990 per 100,000 residents.

As a whole, violent and property crimes went from 54,522 to 56,418, or 8,052 reported crimes per 100,000 residents to 8,067.

To recap: Violent crime went down, but property crime went up. That means the overall crime rate went up from 2005 to 2006.

Crime down in Charlotte since '95

Violent crime went down in Charlotte under Pat McCrory's tenure.

From 1995 to 2007, the number of murders, rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults reported in the Federal Bureau of Investigation's uniform crime reports dropped from 9,228 to 7,233.

At the same time, the city's population increased from 544,146 to 733,291.

That means the per capita crime rate also dropped, from 1,696 violent crimes per 100,000 residents in 1995 to 986 violent crimes per 100,000 in 2007.

Property crime also went down.

From 1995 to 2007, the number of burglaries, larcenies and motor vehicle thefts reported to the FBI went up from 42,882 to 51,279.

But that was still below population growth.

That means the per capita crime rate dropped, from 7,881 property crimes per 100,000 residents in 1995 to 6,993 property crimes per 100,000 in 2007.



Document(s):
FBI-crime-Charlotte.xls

Property crime in Charlotte, N.Y., L.A.

How does property crime in Charlotte compare to New York and Los Angeles?

According to uniform crime statistics compiled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Charlotte had more property crime per capita than New York and Los Angeles in 2007.

Property crime includes burglary, theft and motor vehicle theft. Population estimates were based on U.S. Census Bureau data and yearly growth rates in each city.

According to the FBI:

Charlotte had 51,279 property crimes and a population of 733,291.

Los Angeles had 101,457 property crimes and a population of 3.9 million.

New York had 149,488 property crimes and a population of 8.2 million.

Based on those figures, Charlotte had 6,992 property crimes per 100,000 residents — a higher rate than New York's 1,819 or Los Angeles' 2,621.

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