For the second time in as many years, the number of crimes in Columbia County's unincorporated areas has slightly increased, according to figures released from the county sheriff's office last week.
Meanwhile, the city of Harlem experienced an overall decrease and Grovetown's number of calls increased.
The Columbia County Sheriff's Office responded to 5,339 crimes in 2005, a 2.2 percent increase compared to 2004, when 5,225 crimes were reported. The number of crimes in 2005 was similar to 2000, when 5,328 crimes were reported. Total crime dropped as low as 5,123 in 2003.
Columbia County's population grew from 89,280 in 2000 to nearly 107,000 by the end of 2005.
Sheriff's Capt. Steve Morris said he expected to see a leveling off and possibly slight increases in crime numbers after large and steady drops through 2003 since Sheriff Clay Whittle took office in 1996.
"Obviously, we've experienced an approximate 28 percent increase in population in the past 10 years," Morris said. "Some crime is to be associated with that increase. During that same time, overall crime has dropped 22 percent. ... The 10-year trend is very positive. But the short-term upswing in overall crime has Sheriff (Clay) Whittle concerned."
But part of the 2.2 percent increase, such as increased juvenile and narcotics crimes, is a good thing, Morris said. The 18.2 percent increase in juvenile crimes from 861 in 2004 to 1,018 in 2005 is mainly attributed to the Columbia County school system's more aggressive stance on truancy, Morris said.
Arrests stemming from manufacturing, distribution and sale of drugs rose 26.2 percent, or 164, compared to 2004. That increase does not mean more drug-related crimes are occurring, though, but that the sheriff's office is getting better and working harder at catching drug offenders, Morris said.
"This increase is directly attributable to a much more aggressive enforcement strategy being employed by members of this agency," Morris said.
Morris attributes an increase in armed robbery and robbery crimes, which he said is concerning, to more businesses moving to Columbia County. Armed robberies rose to seven from the five reported in 2004, while robberies increased from seven to 12 in 2005.
"One thing that is real obvious is the fact that there are more targets out there," Morris said. "When I say targets, there are more and more businesses being established every day, so there are more opportunities for these individuals.'' Morris said the sheriff's office is analyzing the 2005 crimes and their possible causes so the sheriff's office can determine possible preventative measures.
"We had a slight increase, 1 or 2 percent last year," Morris said. "It is not a dramatic increase, but it is an increase nonetheless. We are not satisfied, by any stretch of the imagination and we are going to do everything humanly possible to reduce those numbers even in an ever-increasing population.''
In Harlem, the overall number of crimes in 2005 dropped dramatically.
Harlem Department of Public Safety Chief Jerry Baldwin said his department saw a 26.6 percent decrease in crime numbers within Harlem compared to 2004 numbers. The department responded to 892 calls for service in 2004 as opposed to 655 in 2005.
Visibility is a key reason the reported crime has dropped, Baldwin said. Last year, Baldwin divided the city into zones, or beats, for his officers to patrol and implemented a shift change for peak hours.
"I know it is small, but it gives you more visibility and to me stepping up that patrol has really paid off in terms of our crime stats being down," Baldwin said. "It has helped us out tremendously.''
The number of property crimes such as criminal trespass and thefts in Harlem also decreased in 2005, with criminal trespass incidents falling 32 percent from 25 in 2004 to 17 in 2005. The 53 reported thefts in 2004 dropped 34 percent to 35 in 2005.
Baldwin said property crimes are going to occur in every community, but he said he is dedicated to identifying problem areas and attacking them with police visibility.
Baldwin also said a 39.1 percent drop in DUI arrests inside the city in 2005 might be a product of the high visibility of the city's public safety officers. DUI arrests dropped from 69 in 2004 to 42 in 2005.
"It is unfortunate, we're noted as a speed trap. So a lot of people know that and they won't come through Harlem," Baldwin said. "It is like a double-edged sword. To me it is voluntary compliance. ... If they know we are out there patrolling, then they won't break any traffic laws."
Grovetown Department of Public Safety Capt. Gary Owens said a 5.9 percent increase in the number of calls for service in Grovetown is deceiving because crime is decreasing there. Grovetown officers responded to 11,122 calls in 2005 as opposed to 10,506 calls in 2004.
"The numbers of calls went up because of the amount of people we have," Owens said. "As far as our crime numbers, that's down statistically. ... The actual reported crime event, that is going down. As far as calls for service, calls for service can be anything like barking dogs. Anything from assisting a pedestrian. We do a case card on everything.''
The city saw a 90.5 percent increase in burglaries from 21 in 2004 to 40 in 2005. But the department saw drops in robberies, assaults, larcenies and auto thefts. Auto thefts decreased by a third from 12 in 2004 to 8 in 2005 while assaults dropped 23 percent from the 96 reported in 2004 to 74 in 2005.
The number of reported robberies in the city lowered 85.7 percent from seven in 2004 to only one in 2005. City officers responded to 143 reported larcenies in 2004. That number lessened 4.2 percent in 2005 with 137 larcenies.
The city's population is estimated at between 9,000 and 10,000 people compared to the 6,089 people reportedly living in Grovetown in 2000, according to the 2000 U.S. Census.
Owens said his department has an asset in controlling crimes as the city's population rises because the department serves in both police and fire protection.
"The department grows, too, as well as the city," Owens said. "Our department has to keep up with the city."
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