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It seems that Charlotte-Mecklenburg is rapidly becoming a premier destination for the world-class criminal bent on violence and mayhem.

A decade ago, you'd have to move to somewhere like Boston or Baltimore to find comparable violent offense rate numbers to the ones we have here. Not anymore. Now the criminally minded can enjoy a similar culture of violence in Charlotte with the added bonuses of a better climate, light rail, and a lower cost of living. This place isn't as pedestrian friendly, of course, but you can always steal a car if you need one. Everyone else does. Since the police usually take the report over the phone from its pissed off owner, and since they often don't investigate — even when the car turns up — I wouldn't worry too much about being caught.

In fact, when my car was stolen a few years ago, I eventually managed to locate it myself by religiously combing the area within two square miles of the crime scene. I tried to get police to come out and dust for fingerprints, but no one ever called me back, although the person I reported my lucky find to did give me some lip about how suspicious it was that I managed to find my own car after reporting it missing to the insurance company — something that apparently doesn't happen often unless one is committing insurance fraud or something.

Anyway, while violent crime increased in Charlotte by only about one percent last year, there was good news in the latest Uniform Crime Report for sociopaths who crave Southern hospitality. The report, which is compiled by the US Justice Department, shows that violent crime in Charlotte has hit world-class proportions when compared to other similar-sized locales across the country, and in particular when compared to the "Creative Class" wannabe cities Charlotte is determined to compete with.

When compared with the 20 other police jurisdictions in the nation with populations between 450,000 and 750,000, Charlotte had the fifth highest violent crime rate, trailing right behind Boston, Baltimore, Memphis and Nashville.

But when you stack Charlotte next to other up and coming places around the country where people actually want to live, places Charlotte is actively competing with, Charlotte's crime stats rise to the top. The violent crime rate in Austin, Texas, is about half what it is here. The violent crime rates in Denver, Portland, San Antonio, San Diego, Las Vegas, Fresno, Seattle, Indianapolis, Phoenix and Raleigh all range between 20 and 40 percent lower than in Charlotte.

But the Charlotte area can offer the ambitious criminal so much more. As I've written before in this space, should you actually get caught doing something distasteful here, your odds of beating the justice system are better than they are in most other places. The state of North Carolina now has the highest felony dismissal rate — 35 percent — among the 21 states that keep searchable records, according to a study released in 2003 by the National Center for State Courts. Better yet, at 50 percent, the Mecklenburg County court system now has the highest charge dismissal rate of any court system in the state. And that's after district attorneys screen out a third of the potential cases brought to them. A third of the murder charges in this county are dismissed, almost twice the state average of 18 percent, while another 42 percent are pled down to a lesser charge. Of course, this could have something to do with the fact that we have 51 district attorneys while Portland has 86 and Austin has 76. Mecklenburg district attorneys get by with 38 support staff while Portland's DAs have 132, and Austin's have 108.

The whole system is so convoluted, in fact, that when a criminal justice professor recently attempted to study it, he couldn't even determine what the outcomes were in 17 percent of the cases our system handled.

The general attitude in Charlotte is that since the state is supposed to be funding the system, it's not the fault of local politicians that it's not up to par. They like to talk about "going up to Raleigh" to get more funding when they're running for office, but the rest of the time they'll tell you there's nothing they can do about it because it's the state's responsibility — or they'll point to the bits of local funding they've added over the years that barely keeps it afloat.

But boy, when they want a new tax for a NASCAR museum, it's amazing how fast they can beat a trail to Raleigh, and how little time it takes them to return home with revenue streams worth millions to pay for it.

So if you're a crook looking for in-town living with a metropolitan flavor and access to a wide diversity of potential victims, this is indeed the place for you.

Tara.servatius@cln.com

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