Violent crimes continue to increase in Augusta, according to statistics that show the number of aggravated assaults this year is the highest in a decade.
The frequent violence that struck many Augusta neighborhoods and taxed local investigators this summer has, to some degree, continued into the fall as slayings and aggravated assaults climbed.
At 481 cases through October, the number of aggravated assault cases has already surpassed last year's total by nearly 100, according to Richmond County Sheriff's Office statistics. The cases have been increasing yearly since 2004.
With homicides grabbing headlines -- this year's total of 38 is already the highest since the early 1990s -- an increase in aggravated assaults is an ominous parallel, authorities said.
"I think that when you see aggravated assaults increase, that's when your murders are going to increase," said Richmond County sheriff's Capt. Scott Peebles. "The likelihood that an injury caused by (an aggravated assault) is going to be life threatening is greater."
Georgia law defines aggravated assault as when a person assaults: with the intent to murder, rape or rob; with a deadly weapon or other item that is likely to cause serious bodily injury to the victim; or when a person without legal justification discharges a firearm from within a motor vehicle toward other people.
Peebles said his department is trying to adapt to the violence by shifting more manpower to the violent crime division.
But he said that only serves to create gaps in other areas that cannot be filled without more funding. He said many of the people they arrest for violent crimes are repeat offenders and blamed part of the problem on overcrowded prisons and the early release of criminals.
"If people want to get serious about fighting crime they are going to need to reach in their purse and start funding prisons," he said.
When asked whether Augusta is becoming less safe, Peebles said it's rare that violent shootings and homicides are random. He said often -- although he was careful to add that it's not true in every case -- the victims in violent crimes are involved in drug, gang or other criminal activity.
"By and large, a lot of people who get shot are people we deal with in other cases," he said.