The violent-crime rate in rural areas rose above the national average for the first time in a decade, the Wall Street Journal reports. Though cities on average have a higher violent crime rate than rural areas, large metropolitan areas are safer than they have been in decades, while some small communities are getting more dangerous.
In at least 10 states, most in the Midwest and Northeast, the rate of violence in rural counties has increased over two decades, even as it has fallen or stayed the same in those states’ metropolitan areas. In these less-populated areas, increased drug use and associated crimes, like drug trafficking, prostitution and theft, as well as domestic violence, are fueling the rise.
Dealing with mental health has become part of policing, as deputies find themselves searching for a free bed in a treatment facility. New crime-fighting strategies are designed for urban policing, and sheriffs who police small towns say they are playing catch-up. Small departments, where budgets and the number of deputies have remained stagnant, are overwhelmed.
See also: Rural America’s Jail Dilemma
The number of sheriff’s deputies patrolling 691 square miles in Ross County, Oh., 50 miles south of Columbus, has remained at four over the past two decades. The population over the same period has increased to 77,000 from about 72,000. Starting pay for deputies is $35,000; the Ohio average is $60,000.
“Every year I’ve asked for more officers—for patrol, for the jail. Every year,” said Sheriff George Lavender Jr. The county’s violent-crime rate has tripled in two decades. The jail, built in the 1980s to house 92 people, holds 200. Violent-crime rates in rural counties tripled in New Hampshire and doubled in West Virginia and Iowa since 1996. The murder rate in West Virginia’s rural counties is now higher than in its metropolitan areas.