Even with an ever-increasing population, Columbia County saw its crime rate remain steady in 2009.
The Columbia County Sheriff's Office reported a 0.7 percent decrease in crimes -- from 5,119 in 2008 to 5,084 in 2009.
The drop in crime occurred although county planners estimated the population grew by 2,000 people for a total of 112,500.
Juvenile crimes dropped about 15 percent, from 1,270 in 2008 to 1,079 last year.
"Like adult crimes, juvenile crimes fluctuate from year to year," Columbia County sheriff's Capt. Steve Morris said. "But it is probably the steepest decline we've seen in one year."
Morris said the cause of the decline is hard to pinpoint. It starts with involved parents, and early intervention is vital, he said. The sheriff's office participates in several youth-oriented programs and activities, including Gang Resistance Education Training, which is taught to all sixth-graders in the county.
"Keeping kids in school lowers the crime rate," Morris said. "Idleness is the root of mischief."
The sheriff's office works closely with schools to track truants. School officials contact parents after a child has three unexcused absences.
After 10, the child is referred to Columbia County Juvenile Court, where Judge Doug Flanagan often holds the parents just as responsible as the child for truancy.
"It is a team effort, starting in the home, through the school system, sheriff's office and juvenile justice system, specifically Judge Flanagan," Morris said.
Morris said rises in certain crime areas are actually a good thing.
Arrests on drug-related offenses rose by an average of 113.25 percent in 2009. Morris said that without the rise in drug offenses, the overall crime rate would have been nearly 3 percent lower.
The increase in arrests is attributed to the work of the sheriff's office Narcotics Unit, who initiated many of the cases resulting in the arrests, Morris said.
"Sadly, at times, that proactive labor has a negative impact on the overall crime rate," Morris said. "We'll take it. That's where a negative may actually be a positive."
Rises in other crime areas are not viewed as positively.
Robbery incidents rose from 10 in 2008 to 13 in 2009. The number of armed robberies grew from 15 in 2008 to 28 in 2009. The economy could play a role in the increases, Morris said.
"Obviously, it was not a good year in that particular area," Morris said.
Law enforcement officials in Grovetown and Harlem said they, too, are seeing a decrease in crime among a larger number of residents.
The Grovetown Department of Public Safety reported a 5.29 percent increase in calls for service in 2009.
That figure includes crime reports in addition to calls about abandoned vehicles, barking dogs, police escorts and other noncrime calls.
"Everything," Chief A.L. Robinson said. "The more people you get, the more people you are going to have calling."
The department saw an 11.63 percent decrease in major crimes in 2009. Those crimes -- murder, rape, robbery, assault, burglary, larceny and auto theft -- dropped from 344 in 2008 to 304.
Burglaries dropped from 77 in 2008 to 45 in 2009.
Robinson said he partly attributes the decrease to high visibility of officers.
In 2009, the department added a third midshift officer, working from about noon to midnight, to the two-officer day and night shifts.
They often patrol neighborhoods, increasing visibility and warding off potential thieves and burglars.
Keeping the crime rate steady is made easier with the good working relationship with nearby law enforcement agencies, including the sheriff's office and Harlem Department of Public Safety, Robinson said.
Harlem's Chief Jesse Bowman agrees that working together is important.
"We are all in this together," Bowman said. "We've all got to be able to count on one another."
Harlem reported a marked drop -- 9.38 percent -- in the number of calls for service.
Like Robinson, Bowman said he attributes much of that drop to increased visibility.
"We are in the area more," Bowman said. "Our officers are actually getting in there, riding in there and doing community policing.."
Still, thefts in the city nearly doubled, from 35 in 2008 to 61 in 2009.
Bowman said that people involved with drugs are often looking for "any way to get money" andthat shoplifting incidents have increased.
He said thieves usually target quick, easy items such as CDs in unlocked vehicles or bicycles or yard equipment left outside unattended.
"That's what it is mostly about," Bowman said.
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