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Violent crime down in the South, Clayton

By Ed Brock

Gloria Cooke looks around her and sees more crime in Clayton County.

“It's just daily how we're hearing things that have happened, break-ins, shootings, gangs,” said 60-year-old Cooke who lives in Riverdale.

She usually hears about all these things on the news.

“It's more often Clayton County. You hear that more often than you used to,” Cooke said.

Koboi Simpson, 35, is more skeptical about a possible rise in crime.

“It's hard to tell. I try not to trust media reports,” Simpson said. “I don't know if it's getting worse or better, but it's certainly being highlighted more.”

In fact the latest figures show that crime is slowing in Clayton County and throughout the South, if only by a few percentage points.

The FBI recently released its Uniform Crime Report that shows a nationwide drop in both violent crime, including murder, forcible rape and aggravated assault, and property crime between 2003 and 2004, the latter being the last year for which statistics are available. According to the report there were 1,383,676 violent offenses in 2003 and 1,367,009 offenses in 2004, a drop of 1.2 percent. In the South, which is the most populated part of the country and where approximately 41.9 percent of the nation's violent crime occurs, the number of offenses dropped .3 percent from 2003 to 2004.

Property crime dropped 1.1 percent nationwide from 10,422,862 offenses in 2003 to 10,328,255 in 2004. About 41.3 percent of the nation's property crime in the South and from 2003 to 2004 the number of property crimes went down .8 percent.

According to the report certain up and down fluctuations in crime rates occur each year for a variety of reasons, including population shifts.

As for Clayton County, so far 2005 seems to be lagging behind last year, a trend some law enforcement officers think will continue.

In 2004 there were 15 homicides investigated by the Clayton County Police Department and this year to date there have been 11. There were 42 rapes, 502 robberies, 444 aggravated assaults, 2,583 burglaries, 4,306 thefts, 1,907 vehicle thefts and 18 arsons in 2004.

This year to date there have been 26 rapes, 259 robberies, 318 aggravated assaults, 1,673 burglaries, 2,747 thefts, 1,062 vehicle thefts and 30 arsons, the last being the only crime to surpass last year's numbers already.

Clayton County Assistant Police Chief Jeff Turner said he doesn't think this year's numbers will climb much higher in the last two months of the year.

“I think that they will remain low due in particular to the aggressive policing by the department and greater community involvement,” Turner said.

The community involvement includes calls from the citizens when they see something suspicious, Turner said.

Forest Park police are saying they think 2005 will be one of the safest times in 10 years, according to Capt. Chris Matson.

In 1996 crime in the city peaked with 3,058 Part 1 crimes (the more serious offenses such as murder.) By 2004 that amount was reduced 38 percent to 1,868. So far in 2005 there have been 1,251 Part 1 crimes reported, Matson said.

Matson cited community policing programs such as neighborhood watches and citizens police academies for the decline, as well as the implementation of the “Comstat” program to analyze crime trends and patterns.

Also, Matson said the department “makes no apologies for having aggressive traffic enforcement measures.” The department identified “high accident frequency sites” and locations where most serious accidents occur and reduced the number of accidents six percent from 1,404 in 1996 to 1,323 in 2004. There have been 825 accidents in the city so far this year.

Forest Park police also issued more citations, 15,792 in 1996 and 22,757 in 2004, though in the interim they also hired about eight more officers.

“This versatile approach to problem solving has been successful thus far, although police certainly recognize there are many variables that contribute to crime that police cannot control,” Matson wrote in a statement.