Columbia County sheriff's Capt. Steve Morris knew it would happen - eventually.
Although his county's overall crime statistics for 2001 dropped for the fifth year in a row, the decline seems to be slowing.
"Once again we are reporting a decrease in crime despite predictions that the decline would stop," Morris said after reviewing the county's recently released statistics for the previous year. "However, we are seeing signs of a leveling-off period."
In 2001, overall crime fell 2.2 percent. The 5,212 incidents represented a drop of 116 cases from 2000, far less significant than the drop from 1999 to 2000 - 528 cases. Crime in the county has fallen an average of 330 incidents a year over the past five years.
"Several years ago we anticipated a leveling-off period," Morris said. "And it appears those predictions are starting to come true. So we have to look forward and plan ahead."
He attributed most of the leveling off to the county's population increase.
"A reduction of crime is only going to go so low, especially in a growing area," he said. "And we've grown by leaps and bounds over the years."
Still, he said, 2001 was positive for its continued decrease in crime, particularly violent crimes.
"Successful community policing programs and stricter sentencing laws that lock up criminals for longer terms have contributed to these reductions," he said. "It also has a lot to do with the dedication and tenacity of the deputies we have here."
Rapes decreased by 10 to 15 cases. Robberies fell by two to 18. Aggravated assaults dropped from 65 to 38. And thefts dropped from 1,381 to 1,165 and arsons from 12 to 2. Murders remained unchanged at two.
The bad news is that burglaries increased by 19 to 260.
Also on the upswing were juvenile offenses, which increased from 592 to 698 incidents. Meanwhile, drug cases decreased by 132 to 224.
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