Local homicide surge defies trend in U.S.

Augusta reached a grim milestone Saturday as the number of homicides for this year tied all of 2009.

The news comes as FBI statistics released Monday show that homicides for the nation last year fell to a level not seen in four decades.

The most recent FBI Uniform Crime Report, which compiles data submitted by police agencies across the nation, shows 15,241 homicides reported in 2009 -- the lowest since 1969, when 14,760 people were reported killed.

In Richmond County, the shooting death of 20-year-old Corey Garnett on Saturday marked the 26th homicide for 2010. By this time last year, there had been 20 homicides.

This year's number doesn't count the discovery of a Conyers, Ga., man's body found in Aiken in June, which Richmond County investigators have included in their totals of homicide cases. If James Thomas Mills, who went missing from Augusta on July 23, 2001, is added to the total, the number so far surpasses last year's.

The frequency and regularity of homicides, which peaked in July, have frustrated local investigators.

"The only thing I can tell you is we are struggling," said Maj. Ken Autry, who is in charge of the Richmond County Sheriff's Violent Crimes Division. Autry said July's total of eight homicides was unusual but not necessarily a gauge of how the year will turn out.

Capt. Scott Peebles said the violence has forced the sheriff's office to shift staff resources.

FBI numbers show a slight decline in violent crimes, rapes, robberies, aggravated assaults, larcenies, motor vehicle thefts and arsons in Richmond County in 2009 compared with 2008. Murders, property crimes and burglaries showed an increase.

Aiken County posted increases in all violent crime categories except rape. It was the same in Columbia County, where rape was the only violent crime that dropped, the data shows.

FBI Uniform Crime Report
RichmondAikenColumbia
Violent crime1,039482119
Murder and non-negligent manslaughter26104
Forcible rape1383514
Robbery69611842
Aggravated assault17931959
Property crime13,9253,2882,269
Burglary3,5871,351353
Larceny/theft8,7121,6081,795
Motor vehicle theft1,626329121
Arson6856

Source: FBI