Jasmine Davis awoke Wednesday morning to her best friend frantically shaking her arm. It wasn’t until she looked out the window that she also felt a punch to the gut.
The small patch of road where her prized 1997 Honda Accord had been parked the night before was empty. The 23-year-old Augusta resident’s car had been stolen.
Feelings of violation and fear quickly turned to anger, Davis said.
“I don’t have a car anymore,” Davis recalled saying to herself. “I just got that car and I’m still paying for it.”
Davis’ sedan is one of more than 404 vehicles reported stolen in Richmond County so far this year. That number might seem high, but deputies have reported 84 fewer thefts through the first six months of 2014 than in the same span last year.
In all, 1,063 cars were reported stolen in Richmond County in 2013.
The decline in thefts could be the result of the new zone system implemented by the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office in May, Sgt. Michael McDaniel said. The zone model eliminated 35 beats the county had operated under during previous administrations.
Just one month into the new plan, the department has reported less than half of the number of thefts in June than it did a year prior. In 2013, there were 114 thefts, compared to just 55 this year.
“You’re actually seeing more deputies on the street, as well as having more deputies focusing on the area that we’re now finding to be a problem spot,” he said.
The decline in thefts mirrors a national trend, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s uniform crime reports.
In 2012, law enforcement agencies reported an estimated 721,053 motor vehicle thefts, with another motor vehicle stolen every 44 seconds. Though the number rose less than one percent from the year prior, the report shows a 24.8 percent decline in thefts since 2008.
Numbers for 2013 have not yet been made available by the FBI.
Georgians seem to be particularly susceptible to vehicle thefts. The state ranks sixth in the nation in the number of vehicles stolen, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Web site. California and Texas hold on to the top two spots, followed by Florida, New York and Illinois.
Unlike its neighbor, numbers in Columbia County have remained somewhat stagnant. There have been 49 thefts reported so far in 2014, one less than what was reported in the first six months of 2013.
Without dramatic shifts in either direction, Capt. Steve Morris said, the department can focus on educating motorists on how to prevent more thefts in the future. One message the department would like to send is to keep valuables at home, he said.
“If we see someone, for example, in a parking lot leaving their vehicle unsecured we’ll remind them to secure that vehicle and to stow away any valuables so that nothing is in plain sight,” he said.
Learning to prevent thefts couldn’t come at a better time of the year. According to the NHTSA Web site, July and August are the two worst months for vehicle thefts annually.
Morris said once a vehicle is recovered, it is usually towed for safekeeping until the owner can be contacted. In some cases, the owner will pick up the vehicle where it is recovered.
Such was the case for Davis, whose car was recovered hours later.
Though the NHTSA estimates only about 54 percent of stolen vehicles are ever returned, Davis’ car was returned after a Richmond County sheriff’s deputy attempted to stop the vehicle, engaged in a car pursuit and secured the vehicle after it wrecked in a parking lot.
“It’s fixable, but the parts are so expensive,” said Davis, referencing the vehicle’s damaged steering column and front end. “I don’t know what I could do different. I thought I was safe then.”