The decline in crime is more than just numbers to Barbara Thurmond. It means that her son, George, and other young men in Augusta did not become a statistic.
"It means lives were saved," said Ms. Thurmond, president and co-founder of Blacks Against Black Crime.
Augusta appears to be following the national trend of declining crime rates. There were 7 percent fewer violent crimes reported in 1997. So far in Augusta this year the rates have declined over last year for most violent crimes, except for rape, also mirroring a national trend.
Columbia County has seen an overall decline in crime except for a three-fold increase in murder, due to multiple homicides in a couple of incidents, said sheriff's Capt. Steve Morris. The Aiken Public Safety Department reported a decline in the first half of the year in murder, about the same number of armed robberies and a slight increase in rapes and aggravated assaults. Figures for 1998 were not available from the Aiken County Sheriff's Office.
It's too easy to get caught up in the numbers, Richmond County sheriff's Chief Deputy Ronald Strength said.
"I hate statistics," he said. "Numbers are very volatile. They're like the stock market. No one can control crime. The numbers might be down this year, and everyone's patting you on the back, but they might go up again next year."
And people have not caught on to the decrease and probably do not feel safer, Ms. Thurmond said.
"There's a lot of hype about crime," Ms. Thurmond said. But the truth is there has been progress, she said. One has only to look at the murder rate -- there were more than 50 in 1991, the year her group was founded -- to see the difference, she said.
"We started out of fear," she said. "Thankfully, today I can say things are better and we're all happy about that. But there's still too much black-on-black crime."
Her group is working on preventing crime. That's also foremost in the minds of a group of Harrisburg residents, like the Rev. H.K. McKnight of Bible Deliverance Temple, who saw crime in their streets and decided to act. Sheriff's deputies stepped up patrols even as his church has nearly completed a new community center for after-school, teen and family programs.
"I definitely think things are looking up in our neighborhood," the Rev. McKnight said. "The presence of the police in this neighborhood certainly helps."
It is those increased patrols and increased work with the community that is turning things around, Chief Deputy Strength said.
"Citizens can help more than you'd ever believe," he said. "We really want to continue that rapport with the community."
That holds true for Columbia County as well, Capt. Morris said.
"Certainly, community oriented policing and problem oriented police is working particularly in those areas where we get the neighborhoods involved," he said. "The theft numbers went from 1,700 or 1,800 to about 1,400. We're certainly proud of those numbers."
That synergy is probably what made it happen, Ms. Thurmond said.
"There have been so many people and so many factors that came together, not just in this city but across the country," she said.
But it is no time to rest, she added.
"Obviously, we have to keep doing what we're doing," she said, and if anything, work together more.
The fact that the rape numbers are not declining like the rest of the violent crimes shows that changes are still needed in society, said Anne Ealick Henry, director of Rape Crisis and Sexual Assault Services in Augusta.
"We still haven't addressed some of the causes for why we have sexual violence," such as a culture that unfairly blames the victim, family violence, and drugs and alcohol, Mrs. Henry said. And some of addressing that may come in education, particularly with the young, Mrs. Henry said.
"It has to do with how we raise our children and how we model behaviors to our children," Mrs. Henry said. "We've come a long way, but we've got a lot of work ahead of us."
Staff Writer Chasiti Kirkland contributed to this report.
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