Bucking state and national trends, Columbia County's crime rate decreased in nearly every category for 2002.
According to statistics provided by the Columbia County Sheriff's Office, no homicides were committed in Columbia County last year, as opposed to two homicides in 2001 and two in 2000.
The murder of Jack A. Murray, formerly of Evans, last November is not considered a local homicide case since Murray died in Edgefield County. Four local teens, including Murray's stepson, have been arrested in that case and are awaiting trial.
Domestic violence, which increased in 2001, fell by 24.2 percent in 2002. Aggravated assaults continued declining with the number of reported cases dropping 21.1 percent. Battery cases were down by 30.2 percent.
There were 8.1 percent fewer thefts last year than there were in 2001. Thefts include shoplifting, entering an auto, theft by taking, theft by deception, theft by conversion, theft of services, theft of lost or mislaid property and theft by receiving. The sheriff's office reports that there were 1,492 thefts in Columbia County last year. That is 120 fewer than in 2001.
"Over the past seven years we realized a 24.4 percent reduction in crime, whereas Columbia County's population grew 18.3 percent," said Capt. Steve Morris of the sheriff's office.
Morris said that Columbia County fared particularly well compared to the state and national crime rates.
Columbia County's crime rate was less than half the state's and a little more than half of the nation's crime rates. With rates expressed per 100,000 population, the county's total crime rate was 46.61 percent of Georgia's and 52.18 percent of the nation's rates.
But the news wasn't all good.
Though overall crime totals decreased by 0.4 percent, the smallest reduction in the past seven years, Part I crimes - murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, theft and arson - increased by 1.3 percent.
"We've experienced some pretty dramatic reductions in our crime rate over the past few years, especially considering our population growth," said Chief Deputy Lou Ciamillo of the Columbia County Sheriff's Office, "but we have seen (the crime rate) start to level out.
"There are areas we've identified as trouble spots that we're going to begin dealing with immediately," Ciamillo said. "Hopefully, we'll continue to stem crime in the areas where we're currently successful while we work on the trouble areas, specifically burglaries. But when you have the kind of population increase that we've had, it's and uphill battle."
Much of the reason Part I crimes increased is because of Columbia County's 50 percent increase in robberies and a 52.3 percent increase in burglaries. Though there were only nine additional incidents of robbery last year over 2001, there were 136 more burglaries. Burglaries increased in 2001 over 2000 as well, but only by 19 more incidents.
"Looking at the complete picture, a 1.3-percent increase in Part I crimes recorded at the end of 2002 echoes a national trend, but is substantially smaller than many other areas, many of whom are dealing with increases reaching well into double figures.
Morris believes a sluggish economy played a factor in the increase of robbery and burglaries in 2002.
"When the economy cools, criminal activity tends to heat up," said Morris. "It's no surprise that some non-violent property crimes are up. As the economy begins to recover, we hope to see these numbers decline again to continue our near decade-long drop in crime rates in Columbia County."
There also was an increase in nearly all sex-related crimes, including three more rapes in 2002 than in 2001.
"Part of that increase can be attributed to people feeling increasingly confident in coming forward to report the crime," said Morris. "But we realize that's not the sole reason.
"Frankly, it's too early to tell why certain crime rates have gone up and others have fallen off. All of our stats are currently being analyzed, particularly the increases. Following the analysis, we'll have more definite answers on why those increases occurred and what we can do to counteract it."
By the numbers
Crime in Columbia County as compared to Georgia and nation
(expressed as rates per 100,000 population)
Category Columbia County Georgia Rate National Rate
Murder 0 7.1 5.6
Rape 12 26 31.8
Robbery 27 171.8 148.5
Aggravated Assault 30 292.1 318.5
Burglary 396 856.4 740.8
Theft 1,492 2,844.5 2,484.6
Arson 8 N/R 35.5
Totals 1,965 4,197 3,765.3
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.