The number of homicides in Augusta rose for the second consecutive year in 2017.
The fatal shooting of Michael Alonzo Cooper, 22, on New Year’s Eve was the 26th homicide in Richmond County last year. That was five more than the 21 in 2016. The previous year, 2015, the total was 20.
Sheriff Richard Roundtree said most of the homicides were due to arguments that escalated into violence and domestic situations. He said the sheriff’s office plans to redouble its efforts to reduce gun violence in the area.
“We plan to increase our education component to try and change the culture where a lot of our young people feel it is okay or even necessary to carry a firearm,” he said. “While reducing gun violence will continue to be one of our primary goals, and even though homicides increased slightly this year, we are optimistic that our efforts are working because homicides have decreased by 19 percent since we took office. “
Richmond County’s first homicide of 2017 occurred Jan. 12. James Bartell Smiley, 28, was found dead near Carrie and Miller streets, in the Laney-Walker area, with at least one gunshot wound.
Smiley is one of three unresolved homicides in 2017. The case of LaTania Janell Carwell, 16, which shifted from a missing person to homicide investigation in June, is not included.
The teen’s step-father, Leon Lamar Tripp, 38, and mother Tanya Faye Tripp, 36, remain incarcerated in connection to her disappearance on April 17 . He is charged with kidnapping and murder, and she is charged with hindering the apprehension or punishment of a criminal and concealing death.
Dr. Kim Davies, criminologist and chair of the Social Sciences Department at Augusta University, said the rise in homicides could indicate the beginning of a national trend.
“This could be just a little blip but also a beginning to a trend happening throughout the U.S. where crime may be flourishing,” she said.
She said the availability of guns in the area, is likely one of the reasons for the increased in homicides.
Another reason could be a higher percentage of males ages 21 to 29, who according to Kim are “more likely to be involved with a homicide.”
“There might be a larger population of men in that age range in the area,” she said. “But I am sure our local agencies are looking at the trends and are going to do what they can to make us all be safe.”
There were two homicides in Columbia County, down from eight in 2016 – five of which occurred in one incident that April in which Wayne Hawes, 50, fatally shot three family members of his estranged wife and two others near Washington Road in Appling.
Morris said most of the county’s homicides are a result of “domestic-related incidents.”
“Most of the people involved know each other,” he said Tuesday. “So they’re very difficult to prevent.”
Both homicides were considered “justifiable” and did not result in any arrests, Morris said.