For the first time in nine years, Columbia County's crime rate rose in 2004.
Columbia County sheriff's officials are attributing the increase of 2 percent, or 102 reported crimes, to an increase of population in the county.
Still, officials say crime has actually dropped from 6,866 reported crimes when Sheriff Clay Whittle took office in 1996 to 5,225 in 2004. Jeff Browning, the director of Columbia County's Planning and Development Services Division, has estimated the county population at 101,000 at the end of 2004.
"Keep in mind that while experiencing significant declines in our crime rate since 1996, Columbia County's population increased 19 percent," Morris said. "The long-term crime trend is down and this slight upward drift has to be viewed as part of an overall picture. Since crime rate has been relatively flat since 2000, we think it is safe to say we have reached a plateau. We do expect to see the crime rate fluctuate up and down in the coming years as our county continues to grow."
The number of reported thefts in the county rose 2.7 percent in 2004. The Georgia Department of Motor Vehicles began requiring a police report for all stolen vehicle tags and decals in 2004, which Morris said had an effect on the number of thefts being reported.
Rises also were seen in physical assault crimes, including simple battery cases rising 3.7 percent to 224 in 2004, simple assault cases rising 37.5 percent to 154 and simple battery (family violence) incidents increasing 20 percent from 30 in 2003 to 36 in 2004.
Morris said those types of crimes are the most difficult to prevent because many of those involved knew each other as co-workers, friends or schoolmates.
"We can put an officer on every beat, but we can't put an officer in every home," Morris said.
Columbia County Sheriff's Office Crime Statistics rates for 2004
• The 2004 crime rate in Columbia County rose by 2 percent (5,123 reported crimes in 2003; 5,225 reported in 2004)
Homicide - 2003, 2; 2004, 1
Rape - 2003, 16; 2004, 15
Robbery - 2003, 13; 2004, 14
Aggravated assault - 2003, 36; 2004, 36
Burglary - 2003, 291; 2004, 243
Theft - 2003, 1,424; 2004, 1,463
Arson - 2003, 8; 2004, 11
• 2004 Part I crimes fell by 0.4 percent compared to 2003
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