The successive headlines were startling: First, Crime increases in Augusta. Then, (Columbia) county crime rate drops.
Its easy to beat up on our neighbor to the east, which is suffering from a 5 percent increase in crime from 2001 to 2002. But its far more telling - and significant - to note that Columbia Countys crime rate in the same period fell in most categories, while Augusta and most of the country saw more crimes committed. All of this happened while Columbia Countys population increased, putting more pressure on law enforcement.
We have experienced some pretty dramatic reductions in our crime rate over the past few years, especially considering our population growth, says Lou Ciamillo, chief deputy of the Columbia County Sheriffs Office. When youve had the kind of population increase weve had, its an uphill battle.
How good are the numbers? There were no murders committed in Columbia County last year. Domestic violence cases decreased 24.2 percent. Assaults dropped 21.1 percent; battery cases fell 30.2 percent. Thefts were down 8.1 percent.
Over the past seven years we realized a 24.4 percent reduction in crime, whereas Columbia Countys population increased 18.3 percent, says Capt. Steve Morris. Thats amazing.
Not all the statistics are so rosy, however: robberies rose 50 percent (though fortunately the overall number is still low, at 27), and burglaries shot up 52.3 percent.
Columbia County is still regarded as a bedroom community, with more people living here than working here. That means thousands of homes are empty daily as residents go to work and school. Last year, nearly 400 of them returned at the end of the day to find their home had been broken into.
Those figures are far worse in Augusta, where there were 2,448 burglaries in 2002. With a population of nearly 200,000, thats a rate even higher than the startling nationwide crime rate of 740 burglaries per 100,000 population.
But its not enough to say were safer than the folks next door - 396 burglaries is 396 too many.
Indeed, burglaries are one of the trouble spots that Ciamillo says the Sheriffs Office has identified as needing extra attention. A similar focus on domestic violence in recent years has drastically curbed such cases in Columbia County, so such an approach has promise for cutting the burglary rate.
More importantly, citizens need to do their part. There cant be a cop on every corner, all the time, watching every home. But there are plenty of neighbors who can keep their eyes open and dial 911 when they see suspicious activity.
After all: Community policing is all about a partnership between the community and the police. Both sides must do their jobs if our homes are to be safer.
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