Crowded areas around Augusta are subject to theft

While working at the Soul Bar downtown earlier this year, Graydon Bannister saw a man break into three cars parked nearby.

Bannister immediately called the police, and the suspect was taken into custody.

Car break-ins and the theft of items such as credit cards and purses are the two most common crimes in entertainment areas, said Capt. Scott Peebles, of the Richmond County Sheriff's Office. An Augusta Chronicle analysis of crime data from the sheriff's department shows these were the most reported incidents over a 12-month period in four of the five areas that house the bulk of Augusta's entertainment and shopping.

At Augusta Mall, however, shoplifting is the highest incident of crime, followed by property theft.

Peebles said places that draw a lot of people usually have crime. He said incidents in these entertainment and shopping areas get more media attention, which causes a false perception of high crime.

"Most of the crime you would see on a level like that are nonconfrontational types of crime where the victim never has contact with the suspect," Peebles said.

First Friday is an event that typically attracts a large crowd and has drawn scrutiny. In the 12 months analyzed by The Chronicle , there were five property thefts committed during the downtown Augusta event.

"We know there's going to be a greater number of people out and about, so we adjust our patrols," Peebles said.

A strong police presence on First Fridays keeps crime down on those nights, Bannister said, but sometimes police are slow to respond when she calls at other times.

"I'm not scared one bit of going downtown," she said. "There's just as much trouble anywhere else as there is downtown."

If someone has a cell phone or purse stolen, it usually happens when they're not paying attention to their belongings, Bannister said.

Vigilance could help prevent some of the crimes, said law enforcement officers.

A "stretched-thin" law enforcement cannot prevent all crime from occurring, Peebles said. People should be aware of their surroundings, avoid carrying large sums of cash and credit cards and refrain from leaving valuables in vehicles, he said.

Lt. Tony Walden, of the property crimes division for the sheriff's office, said some people choose to park their vehicles in areas more susceptible to break-ins during events downtown.

He said he noticed a significant number of break-ins to vehicles parked along streets and empty lots surrounding James Brown Arena, rather than in the center's paid parking lot, during a recent concert.

Businesses in other entertainment areas take precautions to protect their customers from crime.

Cindy Fiske, the owner of Somewhere in Augusta on Washington Road, said the bar hires an off-duty police officer although she generally thinks crime isn't high in Augusta.

"I know crime is present on Washington Road, but we have never had a problem," Fiske said.

At Augusta Mall, overall security incidents have decreased compared with last year, said Linda Hardin, the general manager.

The mall utilizes trained security officers and surveillance cameras, she said.

 

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Thefts in Augusta entertainment areas

Statistics from June 2010 through June 2011 in the main entertainment/restaurant/shopping areas of Augusta show the most prevalent crime in those areas was larceny. The five areas include:

- The 2700 block to 3200 block of Peach Orchard Road

- Augusta Mall, 3450 Wrightsboro Road

- Downtown Augusta including blocks between 7th and 13th streets from Riverwalk to Ellis Street, and the blocks bordering James Brown Arena and Bell Auditorium

- Agerton Lane and Robert C. Daniel Jr. Parkway (which includes the Augusta Exchange shopping center)

- The 2700 block to 3200 block of Washington Road

LocationTheft From VehiclesTheft From BuildingsOther Offense
Peach Orchard401443
Augusta Mall222750
Downtown-a1052764
Washington Road1313562
Augusta Exchange47448
Downtown central business district-b43--9

a-exact address; b-no exact address

Source: Richmond County Sheriff's Office