RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — For any candidate who’s running for sheriff, there may be no issue more important than crime.

Former Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison is running to get his old job back, and campaign ads and mailers that support his candidacy repeat a big number — a 42-percent drop in violent crime during his previous 16-year run as sheriff.

How accurate is that figure?

THE CLAIMS: A campaign mailer from state Republicans says that “under Sheriff Donnie Harrison Wake County cut violent crime 42 percent.” 

This mailed flyer from state Republicans says that when Donnie Harrison was Wake County’s sheriff, violent crime was cut by 42 percent. (Photo credit: Joedy McCreary, CBS 17)

A video ad posted on the campaign’s social media pages says that under Harrison, “violent crime in Wake County dropped 42 percent.”

And a Facebook post from the campaign says that “under Donnie’s leadership, violent crime dropped 42 percent but now it’s rising again.”

THE FACTS: CBS 17 News asked the campaign for the source of that statistic. James Masiclat, of Citizens for Donnie Harrison, said it came from a news report that was provided to the campaign by an independent source, but could not immediately find the original news story.

CBS 17 did find a mention of a 42-percent drop in a story in The News & Observer — from 2014.

Ironically, it came in a profile of Democrat Willie Rowe — his opponent both that year and now.

That story noted that “the overall crime rate in Wake County has declined 42 percent since Harrison was elected in 2002.”

A footnote in the video points to FBI crime statistics from 2002-18, while one in the mailer cites the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report from 1985 to 2020 while noting that Harrison was sheriff from 2002-18.

According to the FBI’s Crime Data Explorer, there were 170 violent crimes reported in Wake County in 2002, and 166 in 2018 — for a drop of 2 percent.

You can also find a 42-percent drop in those numbers if you look closely — and if you change the range of years so that it starts not in 2002 but in 1998, four years before Harrison’s term started.

(Photo credit: FBI Crime Data Explorer)

A total of 286 violent crimes were reported in 1998 in the county, resulting in an overall 41.9 percent drop during the 20-year period that lasted until Harrison’s last year on the job in 2018.

There’s another way to frame those numbers: There were 28-percent fewer crimes reported from John Baker’s last year as sheriff in 2001 to Harrison’s last year in 2018. 

That’s a noteworthy drop, certainly, but not quite the 42 percent cited in the ad.

“Donnie Harrison inherited a well organized sheriff’s office staffed with very professional, qualified and productive personnel and he was able to build on the foundation when elected in 2002,” Rowe said in a statement to CBS 17, when asked about the statistic.

Harrison also claimed crime was increasing again in an interview earlier this month with CBS 17 News.

“In Wake County, it’s gone up. It’s gone up, you know, throughout the country,” he said.

He’s partly right, according to those FBI statistics.

(Photo credit: FBI Crime Data Explorer)

Violent crimes reported in Wake County did spike back up, rising by 53 percent during the two-year period that lasted from 2018 — the year Harrison left office — to 2020. But they ticked back down again a year later, falling by 12 percent in 2021.

And the most recent total of 224 in 2021 was higher than all but one year of Harrison’s tenure as sheriff. The exception: There were 229 violent crimes reported in 2010.