By Ed Brock
Crime in unincorporated Clayton County for 2003 increased over the previous year, including a 66.6 percent increase in homicides, or eight more killings.
Police say the increase is caused by the county's growing population.
Clayton County Police Chief Darrell Partain, along with trying to get more police officers, is also asking the public to help reduce the number of false alarms that waste officers' time.
The number of total calls went up 6.31 percent, from 106,507 in 2002 to 113,230. From 2000 to 2003 the number of people in unincorporated Clayton County went from 186,928 to 202,334, a 7 percent increase, according to the Atlanta Regional Commission.
Partain said he believes there is a correlation.
"I think the population increase inevitably equals call volume increase," Partain said.
In terms of percentage the single biggest increase was in the number of homicides, but though the percentage sounds large Partain points out that the numbers went from 12 homicides in 2002 to 20 in 2003, a number far below other areas such as Atlanta.
"Of course one homicide is too many," Partain said.
Four of the 2003 homicides are unsolved and the number also includes at least two cases in which it is believed the killing occurred elsewhere and the body was dumped in Clayton County.
The next highest increase was in robberies, up 35.9 percent from 337 to 458. Rape and motor vehicle thefts were close behind, rapes rising 32.1 percent from 56 to 74 and car theft up 21.8 percent from 1,344 to 1,638.
"Although these percentages are higher I think we're doing a good job of thwarting crime," Partain said.
Other crimes saw a more moderate increase. Thefts, which make up the largest category of crime in terms of numbers, rose 5 percent from 4,373 to 4,595. The number of burglaries saw the lowest increase at 4 percent, or 2,366 in 2002 to 2,461 in 2003.
Traffic accident reports dropped the most, 6.3 percent from 9,541 to 8,938, something Partain credits to proactive traffic enforcement and the effectiveness of the multi-county Highway Enforcement of Aggressive Traffic (HEAT) Unit.
Aggravated assaults dropped 4.9 percent from 427 to 406 and family violence reports dropped 3 percent from 2,991 to 2,899.
But that decrease probably doesn't mean domestic violence is really decreasing, said Pat Altemus, interim director of the Association on Battered Women of Clayton County Securus House shelter for victims of domestic violence.
"It's probably because there are less reports," Altemus said, adding that the rapid growth may account for that as well. "The county is fast growing with many new people in the area and a lot of them don't know who to call."
Adding to the 231 officers who are already on the road is one way to meet the county's increasing needs, Partain said.
"I've had conversations with county commissioners about an increase in personnel to combat crime. They seemed receptive to the request," Partain said.
The Clayton County Commission will consider adding police officers when they begin discussing the county's budget in the next three months, Commission Chairman Crandle Bray said.
"Looking at the statistics ? they've done a pretty good job," Bray said.
The department is also looking into coordinating efforts with the county's municipal departments, Bray said.
Reducing the number of false alarms from home and business security systems would also help. The number of alarm calls in general went down 3.3 percent, from 17,619 to 17,045, but Partain said those calls in 2003 took up 4,261.25 man hours in response time.
That's about 15 minutes a call for going to the scene and determining if the call was legitimate or not, and a large majority of them turn out to be false.
"These 15 minutes a call reflect downtime for the officers," Partain said.
If he had one officer working alarm calls 24 hours a day, Partain said, it would take that officer 177.5 days to finish the calls.
Most false alarms come from operator error, Clayton County Police Capt. Jeff Turner said.
"Kids who don't know how to properly operate the alarm coming home, for example," Turner said.
A county ordinance allows for fines for people who have too many false alarms. The first three in a calendar year are free, the next three are $25 each and from the seventh false alarm the fine stays at $50 each.
Public schools, a major source of false alarms, are not charged because they are on county property.
"I believe the solution is education," Turner said.