Burglaries are down, but juvenile offenses rose dramatically in the first half of 2003, according to crime statistics from the Columbia County Sheriff's Office.
The recently released crime statistics cover any reported offense in Columbia County from January through June of this year.
There were 67 more juvenile offenses, 390 in all, than there were in the first half of 2002, which showed only 323.
"These increases are cyclical and increase a bit during certain times of the year," said sheriff's office Capt. Steve Morris. "Because of the rise in juvenile crimes and predictions that the problem may get worse before it gets better, Sheriff Clay Whittle has developed several initiatives to deal with troubled youth."
Whittle established the Juvenile Crime Abatement Unit about two years ago. The unit focuses on youth-crime prevention and rehabilitation. Morris said the unit is beefing up its efforts in response to the recent numbers.
"One of the things we're seeing is that we're catching more because we've become more aggressive," said sheriff's office Sgt. Harold Clack, who heads the Juvenile Crime Abatement Unit. "Our guys are really keeping their eyes open. For instance, we had a problem with multiple car break-ins, so we set up some dummy cars and the people we caught for that were juveniles."
Burglaries plagued Columbia County last year with a total of 396 reported incidents, an increase of 136 over 2001. So far this year, burglaries are down to 122, 76 fewer than this time last year.
"We're extremely proud of our burglary numbers," Morris said. "Much of the success for this declining crime can be attributed to contributions of the citizens and police partnerships we've developed. Citizens have become more aware on how to protect themselves from being victimized. Many appear to be active crime prevention participants through neighborhood watches and other programs."
In 2002, overall crime fell 0.4 percent. For this year, overall crime has fallen 0.6 percent. Serious offenses - labeled "part one" crimes such as murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, theft and arson - are down 11 percent, Morris said.
The only part-one crime so far that has shown an increase over 2002 is murder, with one.
Meredith "Pete" Guy, of the 300 block of Twin Lakes Drive in Martinez, was murdered Feb. 28 in her home. Morris said the case remains open and no suspects have been named.
Guy's murder is the only homicide registered in Columbia County through the first half of this year. There were no murders in the county at all in 2002. The road-rage stabbing death of Joshua Hadden in August 2001 was the last homicide committed in the county before Guy's. Tammy Melissa Lonergan is nine months into a 10-year sentence for Hadden's murder.
The only other trouble spot Morris identified, besides juvenile offenses, was theft by taking, which is up by 59 incidents over this time last year for a total of 532. Theft by taking is the taking of property valued less than $500.
Morris said it is likely that the same suspects are committing many of these crimes and arresting them will reduce those numbers.
"When arrests are made it tends to not only reduce the number of occurrences, but also tends to increase public awareness on the importance of keeping valuables locked up," he said. "The beginning of this year, arrests were made with a group of entering auto suspects and a group of burglary suspects. We're convinced that has played a significant role in our reduction in those areas. They're usually repeat offenders, so when those arrests are made it reduces those occurrences."
All other crimes showed only marginal variances over last year.
Crime statistics ranking Columbia County with the rest of Georgia and the nation for the same time period are unavailable, but Morris said the county has historically fared well in comparison.
"We've experienced pretty dramatic reductions in our crime rate over the past two years, especially considering our population growth, but you can see our crime statistics starting to level out," Morris said. "There are areas, like juvenile offenses, that we've identified as trouble spots that we're going to start dealing with immediately. Hopefully, we'll continue to stem crime in the areas where we're successful while we work on the trouble spots."
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