The past month saw a significant decrease in the number of burglaries in Richmond County, and authorities point to two reasons: a recently completed undercover operation that led to dozens of arrests and a team formed specifically to stop such crimes.
“February is looking like the lowest number of burglaries since 2011,” said Richmond County Sheriff’s Capt. Scott Peebles.
The number of burglaries in February was 216, a 34 percent decrease from January, and the lowest total since March 2011.
Peebles attributes the decrease to Operation Smoke Screen, the sting made public last month that netted more than 80 arrests and hundreds of items stolen from the Augusta area, and the Burglary Suppression Team.
“When you take that many people off the streets it has to play a role,” Peebles said.
February marked the first anniversary of the burglary team, which was formed after authorities began seeing an increase in burglaries in mid-2010. For several months burglaries stayed in the 400s, said Lt. Jimmy Young.
After the team was officially formed in February 2011, the number dropped to 247. For most of the year, burglaries stayed consistently in the upper 200s to mid-300s. Operation Smoke Screen dropped the numbers further.
The eight uniformed members of the team spend their days going through the county’s neighborhoods looking for suspicious people.
Sgt. Harold Hitchcock, a member of the team, said they try to focus on troublesome areas but also patrol ones with less crime as a way to keep numbers from rising.
“The guys are working really hard,” Hitchcock said. “They’re stopping people in the neighborhoods, talking to citizens and have made a lot of arrests.”
Since the team’s inception, Hitchcock said he’s seen major improvements in many south Augusta neighborhoods that had been plagued with burglaries.
The drop is also easing the pain on the five burglary investigators whose desks were previously covered in stacks of reports.
“You only have so many hours in the day,” Young said. “When you get overwhelmed, it’s hard to give everything the attention it needs.”
Young said the drop has allowed investigators to give each case more attention and to spend more time in the community talking to victims.