0

Nation's crime down slightly, in contrast with Clayton

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

Violent crime went down a little bit in 2007, according to a report released by the FBI this week.

Nationwide, violent crimes decreased by about 0.7 percent in 2007, after three years of increasing. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation's report, "among the many numbers of 2007, the big picture is clear: Crime is down."

There were still 1.4 million violent crimes reported to more than 17,700 law enforcement agencies, however. The FBI calculated a murder was reported about every 31 minutes, a forcible rape about every six minutes, and an aggravated assault about every 37 seconds, somewhere in the country.

The Clayton County Police Department saw a rise in reports of crime, during the same period covered in the FBI report. Clatyton County Police Chief Jeff Turner said the department received between 800 and 900 more calls, every week of 2007, than it did the year before. "We are now answering more calls for service than we ever have in the past," Turner said.

In contrast to the nation's slight decrease, the county saw a 6.9 percent rise in violent crime. In 2007, the county police received reports of 34 murders; 77 rapes, 605 robberies; 650 aggravated assaults; 3,242 burglaries; 3,898 thefts; 1,602 motor vehicle thefts; 44 arsons.

The department reported its count of the crimes -- which the FBI refers to as "Index 1" -- in January, to the FBI and the Clayton News Daily.

At the time, national numbers were not available for comparison, and it was impossible to tell whether the 6.9 percent increase was part of a larger trend. This week's report shows a divergence between the county and the nation, though the FBI's regional breakdown also shows the South leads the nation in violent crime.

The FBI warns about making those sorts of comparisons, however. "These rough rankings provide no insight into the numerous variables that mold crime in a particular town, city, county, state or region," the report says. The raw numbers are always misinterpreted, simplistically interpreted and used to create "misleading perceptions adversely affecting communities," according to the FBI.

A lot of factors have to be considered when looking at the numbers, including two Chief Turner notes when trying to explain why his policing philosophy is working, even though crime rates rose: One, "citizens' attitudes toward crime," and, two, "crime reporting practices of the citizenry."

"I've got to revert back to what I've said before," Turner told the Clayton News Daily on Wednesday. "About the courage in the community to take ownership and not stick their heads in the sand. We've seen an increase in calls, since we initiated our Community Oriented Policing and what you're seeing is the result.

"We went around ... and said, 'Take back your community! Stand up to crime! Report suspicious activity! Organize yourselves! Become our eyes and ears.' That meant we're reporting more crimes to the FBI."

Turner said the county has also seen some economic trouble and some continuing gang problems, although he doesn't believe gang violence has been "as prevalent as it has been in the past."

The biggest change in 2007, he said, was the change in the public's attitude toward crime. "They are tired of it," he said. "They want to see a difference. They want to stand up. And they want to stop it ... One of our slogans is, 'If you call, we're coming,' and I think these numbers are a direct reflection of the way the community feels about crime in this county."